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Anthony Lawton’s ‘The Great Divorce’ (1st review)BY: Jackie Atkins 02.10.2012
In Anthony Lawton’s vision, heaven welcomes even murderers as long as they display good manners at the pearly gates. Is this really what C.S. Lewis had in mind?
The Great Divorce. Adapted and performed by Anthony Lawton, from the C.S. Lewis novella. Lantern Theater Company production through February 12, 2012 at St. Stephen’s Theater, 923 Ludlow St. (215) 829-9002 or www.lanterntheater.org.
Throw away that Bible
Did God design some of us to be eternally dammed? Is Calvin right? Or did Catholics develop the concept of purgatory— and with it a final stab at reconciliation after death— only in response to Protestant predestination theory?
According to the purgatory theory, a God of love doesn’t create evil among men; it’s men who inflict this consequence upon themselves. After death and a while wasting away in the abyss, we are granted the opportunity to enter into the light when we finally accept God’s love and have repented for the errors of our earthly ways. This was the theory C.S. Lewis presented in his novella, The Great Divorce.
Anthony Lawton, by his own account, has performed his one-man adaptation of this C.S. Lewis opus more than 100 times, so I assume he knows where he’s going with the characters he portrays. But I missed it.
In the Lewis novella, a Professor Clive journeys on a bus along with a group of yet-to-be-saved ghosts to pursue redemption at the pearly gates.
Although Sartre maintained that hell is other people, Lewis— sanctified in his Irish Jansenist soul— knew that all of us have the seeds to hell within us. So we are blessed, in this stage interpretation, to encounter our own iniquities through the sins of others.
As Lawton has it, the worst errors in our ways seem to arrive solely from lack of etiquette. One man on the bus likes to drink and argue. Then there’s a woman who henpecks her hapless husband. Lawton elucidates them all brilliantly.
Clive arrives on the bus to heaven late and takes a back seat. He doesn’t like the crowd he’s with, which is OK because they don’t like him; neither do I. Clive is smug, condescending, arrogant and vindictive— not good enough for God. But am I to believe that God had nothing to do with this?
How God made us
I guess I can see how people can contend that we allow ourselves to descend into a certain personality. But such people have never been to a nursery. From birth, some children are happy, determined, cranky, sneaky or mild. It seems as if this is how God made them. So when these kids die with a fully developed disposition years later, is this really the appropriate time for God to get angry with them?
According to Lawton’s interpretation of Lewis’s work, admission into heaven is based not on your belief system but your conviviality. You must be cheerful to get into heaven. Redemption lies in reading Emily Post, not the Bible.
We discover that murderers, philanderers have been welcomed under God’s wings because they were nice to St Peter and— unlike the bus crew— didn’t give him any grief. Some heaven, huh?
So perhaps Mark Twain had it backward, and you don’t go to heaven for the climate and hell for the company.♦
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