So the GCTC is on Summer holiday these days, but lucky for us they decided to put that sweet space to some good use and let some locals throw a little much-needed theatre into the Studio while it’s quiet. It’s a gang that have been in that space before, 9th Hour Theatre, and they’re back this summer with an ambitious double-whammy of repertory style theatre based on their current fancrush, CS Lewis. They already started on the Lewis love with a children’s show of THE MAGICIAN’S NEPHEW, a sort of Narnia prequel that hit Centrepointe a few months back, giant-sized Superlion and all. This time they’re going straight for the Christian jugular with a couple of Lewis meatier theologically themed works, playing in staggered formation alongside one another and featuring the same cast in both shows. It’s a nice, old school idea and I was stoked to see what they managed to do with the challenge.
Featuring a multipurpose ensemble cast consisting of Nick Amott, Elizabeth Chant, George Dutch, Robin Guy, Jeff Lefebvre, Ellen Manchee and Paul Washer, my journey into 9th Hour’s wardrobe for this2-part theatrical adventure was THE SCREWTAPE LETTERS, adapted by Nigel Forde. I’d actually read this one (sometimes I read things…!) so was especially looking forward to seeing it on stage. Set in a sort of finishing school for aspiring young devils and headed by the legendary Screwtape (George Dutch), this one followers their attempts to subtly corrupt the souls above, and keep them from, you know..HIM (aka ‘The Enemy’). Screwtape comes up against a tricky dilemma when one of the souls he’d been working on (Jeff Lefebvre) suddenly finds him some unexpected religion. He enlists junior corruptors Wormwood and Slubgob (Nick Amott and Elizabeth Chant) to try and clean up his mess, with mixed results. The fun comes in the array of subtle methods Screwtape and company try and employ to keep the souls from salvation, reminding us of all the myriad ways we sabotage ourselves on a daily basis, Christian or not.
The show gets some fun direction and stagework to make the devilish goings-on a touch more playful, and Dutch is a solid Screwtape, chewing just the right amount of scenery. Amott and Chant shine as the aspiring devils, providing some great energy to the proceedings. Robin Guy and Jeff Lefebvre work well together as the budding Christian couple trying to keep his soul on the right path, and Ellen Manchee has some wonderfully nasty moments as a paper-pushing devil giving Screwtape the gears (she and Paul Washer also have a fantastic scene together as a bitter older couple…its great stuff). It’s a fun show with a lot of Lewis’ razor insight into human nature on imaginative display. There are a few slower, disjointed moments, which is likely just the strain of this goliath collective repertory undertaking showing through. Its never too bothersome, and happens a bit in the second show as well. Speaking of which…
I was right back at the studio the following night for THE GREAT DIVORCE, with the same cast back for a rather different kind of adventure. On a stage littered with a daunting pile of luggage, our characters enter and jostle for position, waiting for a bus. But no merry #14 this, our gang are off on a proper trip, heading to the hallowed grounds themselves, to see if they’ve got what it takes for eternal salvation…or not. The show jumps from story to story, watching as a myriad of different characters (more than 20, all told) try to enter Heaven for an even wider array of reasons, often being met by enlightened souls from the other side, trying to help them along. But, as implied by SCREWTAPE, we humans are our own worst enemies, and many of the travellers just can’t get the right message through their heads. Be it a skulking Jeff Lefebvre refusing to accept the forgiveness accorded a murderer he once knew, a desperate Mother (Ellen Manchee) refusing to let go of her long-dead son at the expense of everything else, or a controlling wife (Robin Guy) just wanting one more crack at telling her husband what to do with his life, the foibles brought to bear are common and maddening, and we all likely share a few of them with the poor saps on the stage.
Everyone gets a good chance to shine in this well-staged show…George Dutch gets a great scene as a merry and boisterous angel, a wonderful counterpoint to his snarling, glowering Screwtape. Nick Amott as an intellectual talking his way out of Heaven is great fun, and Guy as the aforementioned heartless wife is terrific (she makes a great Angel too, in a marvelous scene facing down a former lover and his bitter alter-ego, played by Dutch and Amott in one of the best scenes of the whole show). The show follows around bemused everyman Paul Washer as he tries to sort things out, questions being raised as soon as they’re seemingly answered. And okay, this one comes off a touch more religiously heavy-handed, but that’s just to be expected. CS Lewis WAS a touch religiously heavy-handed, after all, but most of what goes on in DIVORCE translates to all sorts of faiths and non-faiths alike. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t shoutout to Jessica Rousseau’s amazing costume work…it’s flippin’ gorgeous, folks, and no fooling.
So there…a midsummer double-bill from a literary legend, featuring a solid repertory cast of local heroes doing good work in fun and thought-provoking plays. AND there’s nice weather. What more do you want out of July and August? Get on out! Peace, love and soul,