The Great Divorce, originally by C.S. Lewis, is a work that reflects on the Christian ideas of Heaven and Hell. 9th Hour Theatre has taken on the mammoth task of adapting the work for the stage, with seven actors portraying all 22 characters. The show, although firmly rooted in Christianity, transcends both religion and philosophy. At its core, it’s a story about the way humans live their lives and the road-blocks all of us cling to on our path to self realization and happiness. Therefore, although it deals with many a heavy theological question, it also manages to be infinitely approachable, entertaining, and beautiful. Most importantly, the show makes the audience think and challenges them to take a critical look at their own lives. If art is supposed to promote discussion and to make you ponder life’s more tricky questions, then 9th Hour Theatre’s production of The Great Divorce is art in one of its purest forms.
In The Great Divorce, a man finds himself in a desolate, grey town, representing Hell, surrounded by suitcases and passengers waiting to jostle and complain their way onto a bus. As our Narrator chats with his fellow passengers, it becomes clear that the motley crew each carry their fair share of psychological baggage. The bus arrives at its destination, a picturesque countryside, which turns out to be the foothills of Heaven. This place, while beautiful, is also more dense than the reality the ghosts are used to. The audience follows each character as their guide tries to convince them to walk toward the mountain, with its abundant light and love. Nothing worth having comes easily, though, and our willowy ghosts find themselves poked by the grass that won’t give way under their scant weight. As their spirit guides try to convince them that the longer they walk, the easier it becomes, the Hell that each of our bus riding characters carry inside themselves starts to and fill them with doubt. Few have the courage to take the first painful steps toward salvation.
9th Hour Theatre does a wonderful job in adapting and bringing to life Lewis’ work. Jonathan Harris’ directing is haunting and magical. He manages to transport the audience to a different, strange, yet altogether plausible world. Trying to translate a work such as this to the theatre is no easy task. 9th Hour Theatre’s interpretation is short on preachiness and long on storytelling ability. It manages to ask questions without having to provide absolute answers. The set is simple and functional: suitcases provide an atmosphere, setting, and become useful props as needed. The music, composed by Margaret Smith, adds to the wondrous atmosphere of the performance. The vision is rounded out by imaginative costumes, spanning eras, dimensions, and worlds.
Nicholas Dave Amott is breathtaking in the twisted characters he portrays. He particularly shines as the physical embodiment of one character’s dark voice. He comes out, chained to his master (or is he the master?) and whispers, cajoles, yells, all the while contorting and jerking his body and face in a show of inhuman horror. He’s unsettling and terrifyingly recognizable to many of us, as he evokes the dark voices that live within. Likewise, George Dutch is wonderful in the human host of Amott’s perverted spirit. The two appear together on stage. Dutch is at times complacent, his body language stooped. At other times, he seems to speak louder than Amott, silencing him. He almost cuts himself free, but ultimately loses the fight and walks off stage, dejected and dispirited.
It’s interesting just how much Heaven and Hell are places we carry within ourselves in The Great Divorce. Each of the characters our Narrator meets on the bus carries their damnation within themselves, though they are given chances to break free. It takes strength to take a look at our own demons and choose to walk away and not everyone is up to the task.
The Great Divorce is a play of ideas and one that isn’t afraid to ask us to see ourselves in the flawed characters it portrays. However, its message is ultimately one of hope and optimism. In each of our Hells, no matter how dark, no matter at what point of life or death, there exists the possibility of salvation. God, in whichever form one chooses to believe, is there to help, but the salvation must ultimately come from us. We can get the help from our own spirits (whether that be through prayer, friendship, love, etc), but we are the ones who must take the first painful steps toward our own light. 9th Hour Theatre treats this complex theme with sensitivity and respect and ends up with a thoughtful, uplifting work that all can enjoy.
The Artistic Team
CAROLINE BALDWIN (Set & Properties Coordinator)
JONATHAN HARRIS (Artistic Director)
TERI LORETTO-VALENTIK (Artistic Consultant)
SUSAN MARRINER (Graphic Designer)
ANDREW PALANGIO (Sound Designer)
JESSICA ROUSSEAU (Costume Designer)
MARGARET SMITH (Composer)
JOHN SOLMAN (Lighting Designer)
MISHELLE STOTT (Hair & Make-up Designer)
ROBIN GUY J