Zion Theater Company‘s playwright Mahonri Stewart’s plays can always promise you a few things:
- You’ll laugh. He has wit and humor in even the most serious of shows.
- You’ll think. He uses themes and subjects that require further reflection after the show is over.
- You’ll like the show.
In Stewart’s latest offering, Swallow the Sun, which is about C.S. Lewis, you will laugh, you will think, and you will enjoy it.
I am saying the best first. Ken Foody, who plays C.S. “Jack” Lewis is amazing. I loved his characterization, his confidence onstage, his sensitivity. I am going to do all I can to see any show this actor is in. I can’t wait to see what he does with any part he’s cast in.When Jack and his brother, Warnie, played winningly by Sam Schofield, interact, the stage clicks. These two work so well together – every one of their scenes was perfect. Frankly, all the scenes that had Foody in them were great, but his supporting cast was amazing, too.
- Paddy Moore, played by John Schreoppel, was endearing and had the best accent in the show.
- Janie Askins Moore, played by Susan Phelan, showed her character’s real love for her adopted son, Jack. I genuinely liked Mrs. Moore and Phelan’s portrayal of her.
- Maureen Moore, played by Erika Coleman, was cute and perky and fun. Sadly, Ms. Coleman had an asthma attack and someone stood in for her in the second act. Though that was a little awkward, since this was a paid preview, it’s to be expected. And Ms. Coleman is fine. Her part was one of my teenage son Caden’s favorites.
- Arthur Greeves, played by Alan Stout, was well done, but I admit, I never really understood who he was in relation to Lewis. I knew he was a friend, but not sure much more than that. The two men did great when they were arguing about religion and if there was a God. Very powerful.
- At first, I was not as fond of Lawrence McLay’s portrayal of John “Doc” Askins. His Irish accent sounded more German. But in his final scene, McLay was so tormented and so creepy, he won me over, if the chills up and down my arms are any proof.
- Owen Barfield, played by Bryce Bishop, had lovely movement and some great facial expressions, but he was a little hard to understand in places. Not sure if it was because he played a character who drank a lot(?) or if there were accent problems. Nevertheless, Bishop had some good comic lines and his serious lines were impactful as well.
- Mary “Smudge” Wibelin, played by my friend Jana Stubbs, was completely and utterly adorable. She has great physical acting and timing. Way to go, Jana!
- Randy King, my former director, played Jack’s father, Albert Lewis. (I was in Stewart’s A Roof Overhead, directed in and starring Randy King.) Randy’s portrayal of Albert was good, but his accent dropped a few times. His final scene was sweet and touching and very believable.
The scenes that involved Hugo Dyson, played amazingly by Matthew Price Davis (who also did the lights – which were great), Foody, and Chris Bentley’s J.R.R. Tolkien were the best in the show. Theirs were where Lewis fought against the idea that there was a God, there was a Christ, and the love and respect these three characters had for one another was right there, played out in front of us. Kudos to all three of these men. Their scenes were amazing.
The show wasn’t without problems. When we got there, Foody announced that this was a paid preview. I groaned, thinking, oh boy. People are going to be fed lines, entrances are going to be missed, etc., etc. Happily, this was not the case. There was one sound cue that needed to be redone, and that was it. The first scene did have a lot of pauses that may have been done for effect, but what it looked like to me is people were unsure of their lines. The unfortunate asthma attack issue could have happened any night. (Ask me sometime about when I bled onstage and got through the scene anyway. These things happen!)
The other real problem is the venue itself, the Castle Amphitheater in Provo. It is pretty, but the stone bench/seats are hard. Bring a blanket or pillow to sit on. Also, spray yourself with bug repellant or Listerine in a spray bottle (yes, this works and is safer than bug spray you buy) or you will be slapping bugs off you as soon as the sun sets. And the sun is in your eyes for the first 30 minutes of the play.
However, so much was good in the play. Don’t let me discourage you. The costumes and set and sound design were all done by Allen Stout and they were all flawless. It’s a rather difficult stage in that there is little backstage. It’s in an open amphitheater and everything’s just right there in front of you. But the set pieces were perfect, not too much but not too little. And the costumes! Gorgeous. Really brilliant.
Years ago, my son made his theater debut at age 8 in Narnia. He played the Dwarf. To prepare for his role, he read the entire Chronicles of Narnia, and became a huge C.S. Lewis fan. Caden may have enjoyed some of the nuances, themes and quotations from Lewis that were in the script of Swallow the Sun more than I did. Yes, literature fans. I managed to get all the way through college, my degree in Humanities, English emphasis, never having read any C.S. Lewis.
That being said, I asked Caden if he would recommend the play to his teenage friends. (Caden’s 16.) He said, “If they have read Lewis, absolutely. If they’ve just seen the movies, probably not. They won’t get why Swallow the Sun is amazing.” He also remarked, “I think I need to read The Screwtape Letters.” Nice. A play that encourages kids to read!
The themes of the show: what defines family; is there a God, and if so, who is He; and what effect do our friends have on our beliefs, are strong, poignant, and well made. There are laughs in this show – many inside jokes that those of us who are familiar with Lewis’ work (hey – I’ve seen the movies!) understood and enjoyed.
I would recommend taking your older kids and adult friends and family to see Swallow the Sun. Plan for discussion after the play. This performance and this play will stay with me for a long time, and I look forward to the discussions I will have with Caden about it in the future.
Swallow the Sun is playing at the Castle Amphitheater, 1300 E Center St, Provo
August 24, 25, 27, 41, Sept. 1, 3, 7, 7 @ 7:30 PM