The Ninth Hour Theatre production of The Great Divorce was presented in an intimate black box studio theatre in the Irving Greenberg Theatre Centre on Wellington St. in Ottawa, Ontario. This theological allegory was originally supposed to have the title Who Will Go Home but Lewis’ publisher asked him to change it. My interpretation is that this ‘divorce’ is between God and individual humans. It is the story of a dream of ‘ghosts’ in purgatory (or hell, depending on whether one chooses to stay), who travel from this grey town full of empty streets (where it seems to always be dusk) by bus to heaven (again, only if one chooses to stay) which is very generally described as a bright place where the ‘ghosts’s’ insubstantial forms gradually will become accustomed to the hard surfaces such as grass that will not bend and apples that have fallen from a tree but are too heavy to pick up and too hard to eat. The travellers on the bus are a quarrelsome group who are unsure whether they would like to stay. Each is met by someone they knew in life on earth who is sent to greet them and guide them to the mountains where they will experience full joy in the presence of God.
I had speculated before hand about whether scenery would be real or projected. In this small studio and with the lack of description of heaven, the company chose to have no scenery at all except what was created by the assortment of luggage around the back 2 walls of the corner stage. All the players come to the bus stop with their own luggage which confused me at first because in this grey world they could have anything they wanted by just imagining it. Then I realized that the luggage represented the ‘baggage’ each was carrying that they needed to let go before they could enter the joy of heaven.
Each of the actors played several parts and so the scenes were somewhat rearranged from they way Lewis presented them in the book to allow for changes of costume. All of the grey ghosts had dark slashes across their cheeks to accentuate that they were coming from this grey world. The costumes of the greeters in the new world were trailing, shimmery fabrics that beautifully contrasted the dark clothing of the ghosts. Actors entered from back stage left and from the theatre entrance. I say stage because they were acting there but it was a floor marked with intersecting lines giving the audience a view almost as if they were the dreamer observing, although the dreamer does interact with the other players and travels with them on the bus. When you enter the theatre, the dreamer is lying on the floor; I wasn’t sure at first if he was real or a rather complex mannequin. He was real.
After the play (their own adaptation of the book), there was a five-minute break after which 4 of the company came back along with a local minister, and company artistic director, Jonathan Harris, and there was a discussion about the theme of the play and lots of questions and observations from those of the audience who stayed. It was very interesting. Each actor/actress left us with one question that has lingered with them as they’ve been working on this production. One of the ideas that stuck with me is the recurring statement that “all answers deceive”. But the most provocative statement that I was struck with in the book as well as the play was the choice each of us is given for us to say “Thy will be done” or for God to say to us “Thy will be done.” Hence the title of this post.
The Great Divorce alternates nights with The Screwtape Letters and continues through August 8th. Photos are used with permission.