By Lynn Venhaus

“Christmas with C.S. Lewis” starring St. Louis native Gregory Williams Welsch has been selling out the Westport Playhouse, such is its popularity. A 5 p.m. show on Sunday, Dec. 17, has been added to the run.

Wearing a red sweater and sipping tea, Welsch plays the British author, born as Clive Staples Lewis but known as Jack to his family and friends. Lewis wrote more than 30 books, including “The Screwtape Letters,” “The Narnia Chronicles,” “Surprised by Joy,” and “Prince Caspian.”

Welsch taps into Lewis’ sharp wit and spontaneous humor that made him a revered raconteur and one of the literary giants of the 20th Century.

“It can be very funny, but also sad, too. He talks about the death of his wife,” Welsch said.

This holiday-themed show has its roots in Lewis’ Christianity writings and “An Evening with C.S. Lewis,” which was also written by director-writer-performer David Payne, who originated the role many years ago. Welsch and Payne first got to know each other performing Payne’s show “Lewis and Tolkien.”

As a young adult, Lewis believed the story of Christ’s birth was nothing more than a feel-good myth. That all changed after a particular encounter with his great friend and fellow authors, JRR Tolkien.

Although both men loved mythology in general, Tolkien was convinced that the Jesus myth was the one true one. That was the start of Lewis’ journey from Atheism to Christianity. From that point on, Christmas took on an entirely different meaning.

In this one-man show, we find Lewis at his home near Oxford on Christmas Eve 1962, hosting a group of American writers who are in England for the holiday. They are about to experience an unforgettable assortment of Yuletide recollections that stimulate a whole range of emotions – curiosity, laughter, gladness and even some tears.

Above all, they will discover how that encounter with Tolkien forever changed Lewis’ Christmas celebrations. But also learn about the people and events that shaped his life – including how he came to embrace Christianity and the woman, Joy Davidman, who turned his life upside down. (They were married from 1956 until her death in 1960).

Lewis, born on Nov. 29, 1898, died on Nov. 22, 1963.

In the engaging conversation, you’ll find out why he nearly abandoned the Narnia Chronicles too.

Welsch has also been performing another one-man show, “Churchill” at venues all over the country. He currently resides in Nashville but grew up in Rock Hill. He has fond memories of flipping burgers at Carl’s Drive-In, attending St. Mary Magdalene Grade School in Brentwood, discovering theater at St. Louis University High School. He is grateful to have been taught by Joe Schulte, who directed the shows, and credits the work ethic at a Jesuit institution for helping him prepare for a life in the theater.

He has enjoyed playing Lewis but is willing to switch gears again to reprise the role of Tolkien opposite his friend Payne, who is known for performing Lewis. Stay tuned…

Take Ten Q&A with Gregory Williams Welsch

1. Why did you choose your profession/pursue the arts?

I believe that I was drawn to the arts on a spiritual level, though I might not have known that as a youngster. I have always felt that to create was ‘of the soul’ and that what our capitalistic/materialistic society asks of us and promotes as desirable and laudable is the antithesis of that and is, in the end, empty.

2. How would your friends describe you?

As a true “listener” who cares. And whose advice is worth seeking.

3. How do you like to spend your spare time?

Spending time with friends or simply kicking back and watching a good documentary or playing the guitar and recording.

4. What is your current obsession?

Whatever show I am preparing.

5. What would people be surprised to find out about you?

That I lived for 2½ years in Europe (Vienna) and speak several languages.

6. Can you share one of your most defining moments in life?

Being called to travel to Peru and study with a Shipibo and an Amarya shaman to participate in the Ceremony of the Ayahuasca 8 years ago — long before it became a pop culture trope.

7. Who do you admire most?

Artists, like Bob Dylan, Taylor Swift, Keanu Reeves and others, whose values are steadfast and remain intact even as they deal with the wealth and fame that comes with their success.

8. What is at the top of your bucket list?

To visit the sacred lands that are the Black Hills and other lands here in my own country. I find I know Europe better than the US! Though Barcelona is a city I have missed and visiting Vienna again to reconnect with old friends and see them for what might be the last time is up there too.

9. What is your favorite thing to do in St. Louis?

Hanging with family and old school friends.     

10. What’s next?

Continue to grow as an actor/artist. Recently did my first run of a one-man show, “Churchill” and want continue to grow in that role as well as reprise the role of JRR Tolkien working with British actor and friend, David Payne as CS Lewis in the show about their last meeting, “Lewis and Tolkien.”

More on Gregory Williams Welsch

Age: Old enough to know better

Birthplace: St. Louis

Current location: Nashville, Tenn.

Family: 7th of 9…Sometimes I feel like a Borg!

Education: SLUH, Mizzou, and the streets of any number of cities of the world.

Day job: Actor, Writer, Director

First job: Paper Route in Brentwood

First role: Joseph, in the first grade Christmas play. I killed it, BTW…

Favorite roles/plays: JRR Tolkien, Didi in “Waiting for Godot,” Ben Hubbard in “Little Foxes.”

Dream role/play: Shelly Levine in “Glengarry Glen Ross,” Stage Manager in “Our Town”

Awards/Honors/Achievements: Founding member of Radio Free Nashville, a low-power, non-profit community radio station closing in on its 20th year giving an independent voice to the community.

Favorite quote/words to live by: “In the very end, civilizations perish because they listen to their politicians and not to their poets.” – Jonas Mekas

A song that makes you happy: “Carey” Joni Mitchell with the LA Express.

Emery Entertainment presents Christmas with C.S. Lewis starring Gregory Williams Welsch through Dec. 17. Performances take place at the Westport Playhouse in Westport Plaza. For more information: