I first saw Tony Lawton's performance of The Great Divorce more than ten years ago, and I still get goose bumps when I think about it. Call it brilliantly-conceived, skillfully written, superbly executed, and you will have scratched the surface of it. Call it thrilling, wonder-filled, gut-wrenching, breath-taking, and you will be closer to the essence of it. It rattled my soul. It broke my heart. And I came away from that theatre feeling like I had experienced the full impact of C. S. Lewis' creative power for the very first time.
-- Diana Pavlac Glyer, author, The Company They Keep: C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien as Writers in Community
As part of a retreat on story last summer, I invited Tony Lawton to come put on 'The Great Divorce.' Tony's electrifying performance held the audience spellbound for the entire show. A wide range of people came to life on stage through Tony's richly developed characterizations. The overall evening might be described as intensity combined with humor and poignancy. Months after the show, I've continued to hear rave reviews from the attendees.
-- Doug Floyd, Spring of Light Ministries, Knoxville, TN
I was in the audience last Friday night at Trinity Chapel in Knoxville. To say I was awestruck by your performance may begin to describe my appreciation. In my 60 years of plays and live performances (I think I saw Jimi Hendrix; it was the 60's!), I have never been as touched by a performance as I was yours.
-- Linda Seals, Knoxville, TN
It was one of the most memorable outreach evenings ever at Proclamation Presbyterian Church, when Anthony Lawton brought to us his dramatization of the Great Divorce. Folks were excited to have a truly professional presentation of one of C.S. Lewis' great works, done by an artist well known to the theatre loving community of Philadelphia and the nation. The sanctuary has hardly been more packed. Folks came from all around and many visitors discovered our church for the first time. Obviously It was not to be an evening for traditional preaching of the Gospel, but it was a profoundly creative setting to consider serious questions of human nature and eternity that drive us to the answers found in Christ - and it was great fun. Many who would not normally come to Sunday worship, were here for this. For me it was the best close up experience in theatre that one can have and was totally gripping. The diversity of roles that Tony captured in the drama made it fascinating and most impressive. It was truly one man theatre it its best! In the softness of the moments that followed, Anthony came out and participated in a free discussion time that was personally sincere and genuine, during which we were able to provide some evaluation and feed back as a Christian community looking to Christ our Savior. It has led to many subsequent conversations of great spiritual value. I would have it again every year if we could.
Proclamation Presbyterian Church
Bryn Mawr, PA 19010
Recently I took a group of sailors from my base to a performance of The Screwtape Letters. My attempt is to expose these young men to some aspects of "Culture" that does not involve gangster rap or things that blow up on the screen. I must say that your interpretation of the Lewis book was by far one of the finest pieces of acting I have ever seen. In the military I have been all over the world and have seen Broadway, the London stage, as well as they Sydney Theater scene. Your performance and adaptation of the work was on par or better with any thing I have seen. Anything which keeps the attention and interest of young men for longer than 15 seconds on the subjects of faith, evil, and eternity deserve special mention. They did want Toadpipe to be in leather more often, but such are the minds of 18-21 year olds. You in leather is a different story, but was in keeping with the intent of what Lewis wanted to communicate. In a way it is a shame that your play is such a small venue. I am sure if you toured the road to a larger audience, they would respond as I and my sailors did at the Lantern. It was a pleasure to experience your work and I wish you much success in the future."
-- Peter Gregory, Commander, Chaplain Corps, U.S. Navy
I went to see Screwtape almost on a dare, skeptical that Mr. Lewis' letters could be amenable to the stage. From your first "My dear Wormwood" -- the way you inflected it, the way it rang true psychologically -- I knew I was in for an extraordinary experience. I went back a second time. . . .
Moreover, the dance number between letters not only also served this 'digestive' function (and the slide show was a clever stroke!) but even enhanced understanding of the letters by painting in choreographed images what you were painting in words -- the seething hatred between people, the despair and frustration of unfulfilled lust. The Bible describes the last stop on the train of despair as a 'gnashing of teeth.' Your Screwtape communicated this.
Thank you for striving for perfection.
-- Andree Sieu
Wednesday, May 26th found me in Philadelphia to watch The Screwtape Letters at St. Stephen's Theater. The Lantern Theater Company presented Anthony Lawton's adaptation and performance of Lewis's epistolary masterpiece. The main premise is Lewis's vision of Hell as a bureaucracy that is “held together entirely by fear and greed. On the surface, manners are normally suave. Rudeness to one's superiors would obviously be suicidal; rudeness to one's equals might put them on their guard before you were ready to spring your mine. For of course “Dog eat dog” is the principle of the whole organisation. Everyone wishes everyone else's discrediting, demotion, and ruin...” A place where dominance is the paradigm, not love. The play begins with Screwtape (Lawton) entering his office, dressed in a black suit,white shirt, black tie, black hat and coat – looking like Jon Hamm in Mad Men or Agent Smith in the Matrix. His office is plain, a few Hieronymus Bosch paintings on the wall and a newly arrived picture of Sarah Palin he joyfully unwraps and hangs on his wall. Screwtape's secretary, Toadpipe (played by Kim Carson) arrives in a tight black skirt, red lace shirt and black suit jacket. She plays the part of the sexually tempting secretary, but she is not impressed or infatuated with her boss, she wants to dominate and destroy him, stepping on him on her way down the lowerarchy of Hell. Her first act of defiance is to serve Screwtape his coffee with the additional flavor of her spit, added when his head was turned – thankfully he does not drink – some mercy for Screwtape. After Screwtape offers Wormwood his advice Toadpipe returns to deliver the next letter. At this point a showdown proceeds. From a tap dance number – a tap off or tap duel I suppose, a martial arts stick flighting scene where Lawton does resemble Agent Smith or Neo in the Matrix, a fire swallowing showdown, a hot Latin dance number where each is fighting to lead, and an S & M session with skin tight leather, whips, high heels, and Uncle Screwtape ripping off his shirt to reveal a leather Bro/Manzier for the Seinfeld lover, but actually just Screwtape's twisted desires. The sexual tension in Hell is pretty hot and I would not recommend the viewing of it for anyone young (especially teenage boys) who do not understand and embrace Lewis and Lawton's point, that this is not love but fiendish hedonism, twisting the good gift of sex and self-giving for dominance and control. Music accompanies the action in between the letters, lots of heavy metal, rap, and unfortunately Led Zeppelin made the cut as well. Directly behind Screwtape's desk is a screen where multimedia images are shown during the play to illustrate a point, important words or phrases flash across, and even a chart used by Screwtape to drill in his point to Wormwood and us. In the book, Letter 22, Toadpipe does make her/his first and only appearance, when Screwtape turns into a centipede and the letter is finished by the secretary. In the play this point allows for us to finally hear Toadpipe as she approaches the desk, with Screwtape underneath, dictating in a Charlie Brown teacher voice. She then translates and finishes the letter. The play ends with Toadpipe dressed as a nurse, tray of surgical tools in hand, as Screwtape explains to Wormwood his punishment for allowing the Patient to slip through his hands into Heaven. Though some serious topics are discussed and shown on the screen, comedy is also present, such a moment happens when Lawton must change his tap shoes after his tap duel. In order to fill the time he sings the Mister Roger's theme song and Screwtape does truly want to be your neighbor, he has always wanted a neighbor just like you and me.
This play is running through Sunday, June 6th – so you do still have time to make a brief trip to Philly to take this in. If you were able to catch Max McLean's version – in DC 2x in the last 4 years and currently running in NYC again – you might want to consider adding this version to your theater experience as well. I enjoyed Max's version, saw it 2x, and if I were to rate Max's it would be PG where Tony's is PG-13 if not R, but a different perspective on the book and on Hell and love vs. dominance is given that makes it worth the time and money. If you are interested I can suggest a hotel a few blocks from the theater and just steps from the historic landmarks as well – send me an email.
Go See Screwtape in Philly!
Posted by Frederick C. S. Lewis Society at 10:18 AM
Drew Rhys-White’s “Tender Comrade” blog
. . . In Heresy, Tony Lawton discusses his wholehearted embrace of living according to strict Catholic principles, and the failure of these principles to organize anything remotely like a sane, integrated, healthy life for him. At the climax of the play he reaches back into his childhood to find an authentically Christlike, but non-religious character, a young coach he had. He places this guy alongside one of the weirder and more beautiful New Testament stories for a dramatic climax that is really a knock out.
You should see it if it comes back.