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Life's lessons live in "Shadowlands'

"Man is an image to be carved from blocks of stone, and the blows which hurt us so much are what make us perfect."

So voices C. S. Lewis in Shadowlands, Kestrel's latest offering, based on William Nicholson's disjointed biographical script.

Mired in the "love, pain and suffering" Lewis muses upon with scholarly disaffectedness at the play's commencement, Shadowlands is a heady 2{ hours of philosophical discourse _ theories on loss, God and art pouring forth as freely as the tea in Lewis' modest Oxford home. Despite the script's lack of focus and tendency toward excessive sentiment, Shadowlands emerges as a gentle statement upon each issue it generates, as well as a poignant tribute to a man who was in respects as childlike as the many childhoods he enriched.

Set in the 1950s, Shadowlands focuses on Lewis' stoic stance, a loveless and Godless man who shed his propensity toward emotion as quickly as his mother was taken from life. In his early 50s and living with his brother Warren, Lewis' world is a cycle of ideas _ whether trading discourse with a priest and bow-tied lay friends or being waited upon by Warren as he pens furiously at his desk, Lewis (Ray Kenney) is a man not to be affected by the strings of emotion.

When Joy Gresham (Annie Kidwell), a married American on holiday with her young son, enters Lewis' sparse home and life, his resolve toward stoniness is unshaken. Clever and effusive, Joy has obvious designs on the older writer, magnified when her husband writes to inform her of his love for another woman and consequent desire for a divorce. In response (and much to the dismay of his naysaying single friends), Lewis takes Joy and young Douglas under a paternal wing and allows a cautious welcome into his abraded psyche.

Kenney offers a tender portrayal of the introspective writer. Trudging through a lengthy opening monologue and notably bland lines throughout the first act, Kenney re-emerges in Act 2 an evolving man. Expounding and expanding upon the theories peppering the disjointed first act, Kenney's consuming gentleness sheds light on Lewis' years of maturing thought.

As a fretting and perceptive Warren, Dick Poole's portrayal of the aged military man and doting elder brother is light and accessible. Whether teasing Lewis about marriage prospects or sharing musings on loss and suffering, Poole is a statement of British reserve.

Annie Kidwell's Joy Gresham is a singularly bland portrayal of a genuinely substantial role. Joy is a woman of great merit, a former writer who trades barbs and philosophies in a drawing-room full of pre-liberated men _ yet Kidwell's characterization is meek and shadowed. Upon realizing she has a terminal bone cancer, Kidwell further retreats from a strength and self-reliance, her words _ the source of her dimming but ultimate power _ lost behind love-stricken glances and assuring smiles. Her meekness creates an unbelievable ally for the creative Lewis.

As Christopher Riley, Lewis' friend of many years, Guy Keeney is superbly crotchety and cynical, a proper foil to Lewis' matter-of-fact manner and Joy's general emoting.

John Husson is, as well, a suitably mild-mannered priest, and Kevin Colber's role as the young Douglas is a supremely unself-conscious testament to Colber's skill.

Nan Colton's subtle direction lapses only in scene changes, when transitions emerge as obvious and abrupt. Given the too-even flow of Joseph Colton's sparse set, and some ill-timed lighting, Colton's blocking interrupts an otherwise thoughtful direction.

Despite its occasional choppiness, a colorless character and lapsing into a sometimes-boggy sentimentality, Shadowlands remains a frequent statement on death, love, pain and suffering. At times lighthearted and forever pensive, Shadowlands is a poignant portrait of the past and, in Lewis' words, "a shadow of the worlds to come."



Directed by: Nan Colton

Written by: William Nicholson

Starring: Ray Kenney, Dick Poole, Guy Keeney, John Husson, Annie Kidwell, Kevin Colber.

Playing: Through Oct. 17 at the Bininger Theatre on the Eckerd College campus, 4200 54th Ave. S. Tickets $10, available at the door or by calling 867-1419.