The Great Divorce

“Should hell be allowed to veto heaven?”

By Andrew Andrews

Carol Halstead, Jonathan Hadley, Joel Rainwater and Tom Souhrad are amazed by a cosmic flash in The Great Divorce. Original photo by Jeremy Daniel.

Clive Staples Lewis wrote The Great Divorce in response to William Blake’s Marriage of Heaven and Hell; so the divorce in question is not between two humans, but to separate Blake’s attempted merging of good and evil, salvation and damnation.

The tale begins with an author who is frustrated by his inability to pen the opening line of a new story, and falls asleep.

When he wakes, he finds himself standing in line at a bus stop in a dreary gray town.

Everyone else in line has a chip on their shoulders, and when the bus finally arrives, it takes them to the outskirts of heaven, where they must decide whether to abandon their hangups and accept eternal salvation, or return to their purgatory town, which becomes their hell.

Unlike his allegorical Chronicles of Narnia, the message in The Great Divorce blatantly expresses Lewis’s Christian values after his conversion.

Nonetheless, Lewis is a master storyteller, and Fellowship for the Performing Arts director Max McLean has done a wonderful job adapting the story to the stage.

You might recall my criticism of The Rose Tattoo for surrounding the stage with distracting video screens. While this production also uses a jumbotron to convey the bulk of its scenery, it does so much more effectively, providing a rich, animated backdrop that lends a cartoonish effect to the story. This lightens the mood, making the story feel less like a moral treatise and decidedly more entertaining.

The architypal characters are well-drawn, and although I did suffer my usual confusion as twenty different roles were performed by just three actors in constantly-changing costumes, it wasn’t detracting enough to ruin the experience for me.

FPA’s production runs at Theatre Row through December 29th before embarking on a nationwide tour, providing New York with a fresh alternative to the traditional seasonal theatre experience that nonetheless hearkens to the spirit of good will towards men.


Andrew Andrews attended The Great Divorce at Theatre Row Theatre Three in Manhattan on Thursday, December 12, 2019 @ 7:00pm to write this review.