Pacific Theatre’s production of The Great Divorce is a creative and compelling rendition of C.S. Lewis’ unconventional meditation on heaven, hell and what may be in between.
The plot follows a narrator, who represents Lewis himself, that journeys by bus from a middling layer of hell to the foothills of heaven on a “vacation for the damned.” This new landscape is beautiful but hard and uncomfortable for all the passengers on the bus that now appear to be ghosts. After arriving in this hostile landscape each rider on the bus encounters a person from their earthly life who meets them in this neutral zone and challenges them to give up their vices, believe, and enter with them into grace. Eventually, Lewis meets an ethereal teacher who helps him to interpret each scene. Part allegory and part speculative fiction the work confronts the ways in which we hold ourselves back from grace.
Lewis, played by Evan Frayne, is appropriately earnest and inquisitive as he learns the ways of this strange world along with the audience. However, reality was not harsh on the feet of the actors. Pacific Theatre’s version of The Great Divorce did not focus on the physical difficulty that the characters in the original work feel while they struggle through the new and unfamiliar environment. Instead the actors focused on the emotional depths of the characters.
The spectral characters were surprisingly challenging and funny — a rare combination. They were acted in a way that often makes the audience laugh and also leaves them convinced of their obsessions. Masae Day was an outstanding example of this in the roll of Robert’s wife whose controlling personality is tragic and hilarious. By comparison some of the visitors from heaven seem two-dimensional when Lewis intends for them to be even more real and substantial than the shadows they are trying to help.
Costume design by Florence Barrett strongly reinforced the preoccupations of the characters. The ghostly figures wear tattered, post apocalyptic garments that reference a mosaic of time periods while their heavenly counterparts mirror the ghosts but in a lighter and freer way.
The costumes are so visually compelling they almost overshadow the competent lighting and sound design as well as the simple but striking set that reveals its secrets to great effect as the play progresses.
The Great Divorce is an engaging play that is even accessible enough for older children. It is a great launching point for lively debates about this life and the next, and at only 75 min with no intermission there is plenty of time to go out for a coffee after the show to discuss.
The Great Divorce will play at Pacific Theatre until June 18.
For more information visit pacifictheatre.org