C.S. LEWIS ONSTAGE: THE MOST RELUCTANT CONVERT Comes to The Broad Stage
Following its acclaimed 2018 national tour, C.S. Lewis Onstage: The Most Reluctant Convert starring Max McLean as C.S. Lewis has eleven performances at The Broad Stage Thursday, July 11 to Sunday, July 21 (press opening is Friday, July 12). The play is presented in Santa Monica by Fellowship for Performing Arts, the producers of The Screwtape Letters and The Great Divorce.Fifty-four years after his death, C.S. Lewis' books are as popular than ever; The Times of London ranked him eleventh on their list of the fifty greatest British writers since 1945. In his day, his lectures on medieval and Renaissance literature made him the most popular professor at Cambridge and Oxford (he served on faculty at Oxford alongside his close friend J.R.R. Tolkien.) His famous book series The Chronicles of Narnia collectively have sold 100 million copies in 47 languages and enchanted generations of readers around the world, and the other two-dozen books he wrote have also sold upwards of 100 million copies. Lewis is arguably the most influential spiritual and religious writer of the past century. "He had one of the great minds of the 20th century," McLean said, "and he applied his formidable wit to engage audiences about his own experience of converting from atheism to faith." For Lewis, this was not an easy journey. As a child, he lost his mother to cancer, had a strained relationship with his father and was extremely clumsy with his hands. His worldview was that "the universe in the main was a rather regrettable institution." In C.S. Lewis Onstage, adapted from Lewis' writings, McLean inhabits Lewis from the death of his mother and his estranged relationship with his father to the experiences that led him from vigorous debunker -- to one of the most vibrant and influential Christian intellectuals of the 20th century. As a result C.S. Lewis Onstage is a joyous evening of Lewis' entertaining wit and exhilarating insight. Heidi Weiss in The Chicago Sun-Times called it "an exercise in questioning the very essence of what it means to be alive ... bristling, provocative, highly entertaining and highly recommended!" The New Yorker said that the show makes Lewis "intriguing company." The Weekly Standard writes, "C.S. Lewis Onstage delivers something truly novel in modern theater: a story about an immensely creative mind arriving at the threshold of faith ... a truthful, richly textured and witty account of religious conversion."
Chris Jones in the Chicago Tribune said, "the astonishing lucidity of his prose, the open-hearted spirit of his storytelling and the exquisite rigor behind his intellect combined to make C.S. Lewis pretty much every atheist's favorite Christian thinker ... and the favorite Christian thinker of many Christians."
McLean devised the play from Lewis' writings including his autobiography Surprised by Joy and his Collected Letters, as well as The Problem of Pain, The Weight of Glory, Mere Christianity, God in the Dock, Present Concerns and Christian Reflections. McLean, a Lewis scholar, was also guided by writings by Douglas Gresham, Walter Hooper, Devin Brown, Tim Keller, Alan Jacobs, Jerry Root, Andrew Lazo, George Sayer, David Downing, Alister McGrath, Armand Nicholi, Sheldon Vanauken, Kenneth Tynan and A.N. Wilson.This play takes place prior to the publication of Lewis' first Narnia story and well before he met his wife, Joy Davidman; their relationship was the subject of Shadowlands - a book (Through the Shadowlands: The Love Story of C.S. Lewis and Joy Davidman), West End and Broadway play (Nigel Hawthorne and Jane Alexander) television film (Joss Ackland and Claire Bloom), and film (Anthony Hopkins and Debra Winger). Lewis believed religion was invented to explain things that terrified primitive man. And after witnessing the waste of life in the trenches of France during World War I, he concluded, that "either there was no god behind the universe, a god who is indifferent to good and evil, or worse, an evil god." However, over a period of time Lewis came to believe that naturalistic atheism originating out of unexplainable laws of physics and biochemistry could not account for logic and reason bringing forth for him an indisputable truth -- or that our moral and aesthetic judgments are valid and meaningful. He avidly read - including George MacDonald and G.K. Chesterton among others, and listened to the influence of his friends such as Owen Barfield, Neville Coghill and Tolkien. This led first to a philosophical theism and then eventually into believing that "God is God." In Lewis' case this bordered on Judaism: "My religion was like that of the Jews." Believing in God forced him to come to terms with a wickedness he experienced in own heart: "a zoo of lusts, a bedlam of ambitions, a nursery of fears, a harem of fondled hatreds." McLean thought that Lewis journey to faith would make for an entertaining and provocatively satisfying experience for the audience. "I love this role; it's a joy to tell Lewis' story," he said. "The production has shown a remarkable ability to engage people no matter where they are on their own religious journey." McLean is founder and artistic director of New York City-based Fellowship for Performing Arts (FPA), which produces theatre in leading performance venues that tackle spiritual and faith based topics created to engage broad audiences. These include the acclaimed recent off-Broadway revival of Robert Bolt's A Man for All Seasons, the first New York revival of the Tony nominated Shadowlands, Genesis, Mark's Gospel(Jeff Award), Martin Luther on Trial, The Screwtape Letters and The Great Divorce. C. S. Lewis on Stage has been presented in Chicago, San Francisco, Boston, Washington, D.C., Seattle, Minneapolis as well as major campus such as Brown, Princeton and UC Berkeley.Max McLean said, "FPA's conviction is that art and theatre provides an opportunity to engage authentically with the notion of God and supernatural realm within an imaginative context. In this production we present what we hope is an entertaining theatrical experience in the form of a brilliant young man wrestling with the person of Christ. That is culturally controversial especially in our current environment. Yet theatre is a great place to wrestle with this subject." McLean continued, "For contemporary audiences, figures like C.S. Lewis and others can provide thoughtful, provocative, multi-layered stories that capture the imagination of diverse audiences. We recently revived Robert Bolt's classic play A Man for All Seasons off-Broadway and I am reminded that in an earlier time, the 1966 film adaptation of it won six Oscars including Best Picture, Director (Fred Zinnemann), Actor (Paul Scofield) and Screenplay by Bolt who adapted it from his West End and Broadway Tony Award (1962) winning Best Play." Max McLean (C.S. Lewis, Playwright, Co-Director) created the role of Screwtape (NYC, London, National Tour), Mark in Mark's Gospel (Chicago, Jeff Award for Solo Performance), Genesis (NYC, National Tour). As playwright/adaptor C.S. Lewis' The Great Divorce, The Screwtape Letters, Genesis and Mark's GospeI. Co-writer with Chris Cragin -- Day of Martin Luther on Trial. Favorite roles include Stanley in A Streetcar Named Desire, and Snoopy in You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown. McLean has narrated the Bible five times as well as John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress and Classics of the Christian Faith. His narrations received four Audie Award nominations. Max enjoys a round of golf.