Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Lewis and Lawrence on Stage and Screen

In the last few weeks I've seen two theatrical productions that were related closely to the history of religions: the film Lawrence of Arabia and a stage adaptation of C.S. Lewis' The Screwtape Letters.

Lawrence is one of my favorite movies, but it's been an age since I've seen it. I've always wanted to see it on the big screen, so it was a real treat to do so when it was re-released for the 50th anniversary. It took a while to get used to the aesthetic because even though the film was digitally remastered, the definition is unchanged and is much grainier than contemporary movies; after a while, though, I wasn't even noticing it. I walked away this time feeling much less sympathetic for Lawrence, at least the Lawrence who is the protagonist of the film, if not for the flesh-and-blood historical figure.  It left me wondering about hubris and foresight. I've read parts of Seven Pillars and Lawrence's dissertation on the Krak des Chevaliers but I came away from the movie deciding it was time to read some biographies, as well. I've started with one called Lawrence and Aaronsohn; it's so far not doing much to make me more sympathetic to Lawrence than I had been feeling. I want to write more about this at a later date, once I've had a chance to think more thoroughly about some of the bigger issues.


I love C.S. Lewis' writing on Christianity and on the Middle Ages, and so I was thrilled, albeit briefly, to be able to see this stage adaptation of The Screwtape Letters. That is, I was thrilled until the curtain went up. The set design was over the top, the actor seemed not to be in control of his body or his voice, and the imagination of the character Toadpipe was far more Tolkien than Lewis, as if the production team had thrown all of the Oxford-based medievalist/fantasy writers into a hat and pulled something out at random. I think that the theater company's goal of making Christian art more widely accessible and opening dialogue between religious and secular people is admirable, but to do it at the cost of the art reinforces the stereotypes it is trying to break down. I found myself thinking, "Well, at least the text is good," and then catching myself. Of course the text was good!

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