A profound work by one of the 20th century’s most influential writers is making its stage debut in the Valley. The world premiere of C.S. Lewis’ “The Great Divorce” runs through Sunday, Dec. 22, at Herberger Theater Center in Phoenix.
“This is Lewis at his imaginative best,” says Max McLean, artistic director for Fellowship of the Performing Arts, the New York City-based company mounting the production.
A journey to heaven and hell, the production is a provocative exploration of human nature, featuring vivid characters drawn with Lewis’ trademark wit.
In “The Great Divorce,” several of Lewis’ most provocative characters take a bus ride from Hell to Paradise. But the play poses some bizarre questions: Will they like it? Will they prefer Hell to Heaven? Are the doors of Hell really locked from the inside?
Three actors transform into more than 12 personality types to tell the fantastical morality tale. As each ghost is welcomed by a celestial spirit, the choice of staying or going back brings vivid clarity to the “great divorce” between heaven and hell.
“There are only two kinds of people in the end,” wrote Lewis in “The Great Divorce,” “those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’”
The play stars Tom Beckett ("Bobby Boland," "Epic Proportions" and "The Father" on Broadway and “Elbridge Gerry” in HBO’s John Adams), Joel Rainwater (“The Lion King” national tour) and Christa Scott-Reed ("The Pitmen Painters" on Broadway).
“The actors are amazing. Opening night was almost hypnotic,” said McLean, who is in the Valley this week to oversee the premiere.
“The Great Divorce” remains one of Lewis’ most influential pieces, earning its place among classics such as “The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe,” “The Screwtape Letters” and “Mere Christianity.”
The Fellowship for the Performing Arts’ production of “The Great Divorce” celebrates the legacy of Lewis’ profoundly influential life and honors the 50th anniversary of his death on Nov. 22, 1963. In 2013, Lewis received one of Britain’s highest honors — a memorial in Poets’ Corner, joining such legends as Chaucer, Shakespeare and Dickens.
IF YOU GO
What: C.S. Lewis’ “The Great Divorce” live on stage
When: 8 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 17-21, 4 p.m. Dec. 21, 3 p.m. Dec. 22
Where: Herberger Theater Center, 222 E. Monroe St., Phoenix
Information: (602) 252-8497 or GreatDivorceOnStage.com