Creative Power: C.S. Lewis and The Great Divorce

By Joe Oliger

Perhaps best known as the author of The Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis was a skeptic. He viewed church as a chore, declaring himself an atheist in his early years. He returned to Christianity later in life with the help of his friend J.R.R. Tolkien.

Philadelphia actor Tony Lawton has adapted C.S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce into an 80-minute, one-man performance featuring multiple characters. Due to popular demand, the play returns to PSF for a fourth time on Monday, June 27th at 7:30pm on the Main Stage.

The story of “the man” working his way from hell to heaven, The Great Divorce begins his journey at a bus stop in the rainy, Grey Town. He gets on the bus and arrives in a green field where everything is harder than diamond and he is as ethereal as a ghost. It hurts to walk, but the farther along he goes, the easier it becomes.

Guided over the field and through the woods by his mentor George MacDonald, they see other ghosts turning away from their own guides and refusing to travel the hard road to heaven, choosing instead to return to the grey town. However, sometimes even the ghosts with the greatest sins are able to triumph and move on to heaven.

 “The language is all Lewis’s, totally engaging,” says Lawton, “I doubt I could improve the language if I tried.”
The biggest challenge Lawton faced was deciding which stories to keep. “I was looking for stories that were a good balance of mind and heart.”

“This show really resonated with our audiences, it tugs at our basic needs as humans to belong to something bigger than ourselves.” said Producing Artistic Director Patrick Mulcahy.

Lawton has performed The Great Divorce at multiple theatres over the past several years—The Philadelphia Inquirer lauded his performances as “masterful.”

Powerful, too.

“A man contacted me to tell me that his daughter, after seeing the show, came home crying, apologizing to her parents for any time she had been disrespectful and any other trouble she had caused, promising to get her life back on track.
“The father explained that she had been falling in with a rough crowd, disrespecting her parents and causing trouble. Now she is about to graduate college with a degree in theatre, of all things!”

“Call (Lawton’s performance) brilliantly-conceived, skillfully written, superbly executed, and you will have scratched the surface of it,” wrote Diana Pavlac Glyer, author, The Company They Keep: C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien as Writers in Community. “Call it thrilling, wonder-filled, gut-wrenching, breath-taking, and you will be closer to the essence of it. It rattled my soul. It broke my heart. And I came away from that theatre feeling like I had experienced the full impact of C. S. Lewis' creative power for the very first time.”