British acting duo David Payne & Gordon Tett thoroughly impressed at the opening night of “Lewis & Tolkien- Of Wardrobes & Rings” at the Sheen Center on Bleecker Street in Lower Manhattan. Starring as the two legendary writers C.S. Lewis & J.R.R. Tolkien respectively, both actors were so at one with their parts that they literally seemed to be the writers themselves.
Staged in a single set, the Rabbit Room, a sitting room at The Eagle & Child, the legendary pub in Oxford in 1963, the legendary authors mused, sparred, chatted, reviewed, waxed poetically, shared & at times even sat in uncomfortable silence throughout better part of the morning in Act I, followed by an after lunch session in Act II. What emerged was a story far more than the sum of the lines delivered. What the production lacked in traditional theatrical fare like staging, lighting, wardrobe, etc. was more than made up for in quality of material & finesse of delivery.
By the sounds of this review, one might surmise that the play was a two character ensemble. Fact is that new comer Audrey Ney made her stage debut in “Lewis & Tolkien” as the American cocktail waitress, Hattie. The role was so overly played that it proved annoying, perhaps as an attempt by Ney to assert herself in a manner to not render her entire role as forgettable. While Hattie did have a rather significant part throughout, it left this observer wondering why the role was even written into the play at all. The fact it was a forgettable one, had little to do with Ney’s ability & rather, I believe, more to do with her doing what she could with a role that really had no need in the first place. In this respect, she did a commendable job as Hattie.
Payne & Tett both demonstrated incredible command of the script, which was so rich with words that I was left astounded by how actors can possibly remember so many lines & then deliver them with such conversational ease. When, during intermission, it was learned that David Payne also wrote the play, the feat was a bit more clearly understood in his case, but that left Tett to have accomplished his by sheer talent, which both possess ad infinitum.
Playing a limited run through June 14th, this is a play worth seeing. The story is intriguing, the characters are both enigmatic & approachable, & the message is universal & goes far beyond a simple recitation of historical fact & data.
The run of this play has passed, but the programming at the Sheen Center is rich & varied. It’s definitely a roster of performances worth investigating. For schedule & tickets, visit SheenCenter.org.
-R. Scott French