By C.B. Adams Contributing Writer The title of the play, “Lewis & Tolkien of Wardrobes and Rings” might imply that attendees will be privy to behind-the-scenes factoids about their favorite “Lord of the Rings” and/or “The Chronicles of Narnia” characters. Alas, no revelations here. The two-man play, presented at the Playhouse at Westport Plaza, offers no new insights into Bilbo’s sexuality or Aslan’s origins as a plush toy.
“Lewis & Tolkien” delights in other, more
mature and insightful ways. It’s a buddy play, an even-more-literary “My
Dinner with Andre.” Written and performed by David Payne as C. S. Lewis
with Gregory Welsch as J. R. R. Tolkien, this play lightly examines the lives,
loves, shortcomings and pontifications of these masters of British fantasy as
they age into grumpy, weary, ruminative old men.
With a simple set — two easy chairs, a couple of tables, a
chess set to convey a cozy back room at their favorite pub — the play puts
front and center the true friendship between Tolkien and Lewis — the men, not
the legends. And friendship here is defined as a deep, platonic man-love that
has both nourished and complicated their lives.
As Tolkien wrote in “The
Fellowship of the Ring,” “All we have to decide is what to do with the
time that is given us.” Payne’s play sets the two characters down to hash out
some of their issues. This approach emphasizes the abilities of the two actors.
In this, Payne and Welsch are as comfortable as well-broken-in loafers. Without
snazzy scenery or sound design, it’s easy to fall into the word- and
idea-filled relationship between them.
Neither Tolkien nor Lewis have any distinctive mannerism or
characteristics, compared to, say, Truman Capote, so there is no burden to
assess how well either actor portrays his man. So, the success of this
performance relies — rightly — on the chemistry and interplay between Payne
and Welsch. In this production, this is achieved well.
themselves created fantastical worlds and these actors create a smaller but no
less potent and engaging world of ideas and interpersonal challenges and
triumphs. Plus, they get to dis The Bard himself, Shakespeare. That’s a tall
challenge with pared down theatrical essentials and a stage as intimate as
Westport’s. Despite some small timing and dialogue flubs by Payne, and the
noticeable tape holding the microphones on the cheeks of both actors, they
maintained this world with believability, passion and poignancy.
If this play were a painting, it would be one of those
glowing cottages rendered by Thomas Kinkade. It invites you in for some tea and
a satisfying, stimulating conversation. Taking an algorithmic approach, ala
Pandora or Spotify, if you like these authors’ writings, if you are a regular
Masterpiece Theatre-goer, if you are into tweedy woolen jackets with leather
elbow patches, or if you have an abiding appreciate the “life of the
mind,” then Lewis & Tolkien is for you.
The Playhouse at Westport Plaza presented “Lewis
& Tolkien, of Wardrobe and Rings” for six performances June 13-16. For more
information, visit www.playhouseatwestport.com
Lynn Venhaus has had a continuous byline in St. Louis metro region publications since 1978. She is a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, currently reviews films for Webster-Kirkwood Times and KTRS Radio, covers entertainment for PopLifeSTL.com and co-hosts podcast PopLifeSTL.com…Presents, and writes features and news for Belleville News-Democrat and contributes to other publications. She is a member of CCA, AWFJ and St. Louis Film Critics Association. She is a founding member of the St. Louis Theater Circle.