Monday, March 6, 2017

Off-Broadway Theater Review: The Most Reluctant Convert

Max McLean. Photo:  Jeremy Daniel.
The Most Reluctant Convert
Written by Max McLean
Co-directed by Max McLean and Ken Denison
Fellowship for the Performing Arts
Extended through May 21

By Lauren Yarger
What's It All About?
The story of the the conversion of author C.S. Lewis (the creator of the Narnia books) from atheism to Christianity. Max McLean, who adapted the script form Lewis' autobiography "surprised by Joy and his "Collected Letters" as well as other materials, stars as Lewis and co-directs the one-man show with producer Ken Denison. Set in Lewis' Oxford study (designed by Kelly James Tighe with projections for backgrounds designed by Rocco Disanti)  in 1950, Lewis relates the story of how he fell away from the faith -- he was baptized in the Church of Ireland and harsh father was not an example of the kinder side of faith. He came to the belief that God did not exist, that religion was something mankind made up to answer terrifying questions.

"I didn't believe in God, but was angry with God for not existing."

He delves into erotica and the occult to fill the void, but never is able to find what he is looking for until later study and conversations with friends like poet Owen Barfield and author J.R.R. Tolkien ("The Hobbit;" "Lord of the Rings") that he realizes he does believe in God. Believing in Jesus as God incarnate came a bit later.

What Are the Highlights?
Lewis went on to become one of the greatest writers about the Christian faith. His books "Mere Christianity" The Narnia Chronicles and "The Screwtape Letters" -- which Fellowship for the Performing Arts also turned into a stage adaptation starring McLean -- have been a source of growth for Christians and conversation with non believers for decades, so it's always great to see this type of work highlighted on a New York Stage.  The always excellent John Gromada provides original music and sound design to enhance the atmosphere. Disanti's projection pulls portraits off the study walls to highlight the people mentioned in Lewis' narrative. A run time of 80 minutes with no intermission is a treat.

What Are the Lowlights?
It's pretty dry, even if you are interested in the Christian perspective of Lewis' conversion. McLean's heavily accented voice (Claudia Hill-Sparks does the dialect coaching) develops a cadence that tends to lull. Introducing some conversation with Tolkien might have broken up the monologue and provided interest for audience members who probably know the Middle Earth author as well or better than Lewis. The "most" reluctant convert seems a stretch for this conversion story which hinges on a a realization and slow acceptance of belief. Believe me, I was a much more reluctant convert! But again, it is a blessing to be able to have this kind of faith-based theater offering in New York and I have already recommended it to many planning trips into the city. Talk-back sessions are offered after most of the performances.

More information:
The Most Reluctant Convert concludes this season for Fellowship of the Performing Arts (previous shows were The Screwtape Letters and Martin Luther on Trial, the company's first original play.) Performances through April 2: Wednesdays at 7 pm; Thursdays at 7 pm; Fridays at 8 pm; Saturdays at 4 and 8 pm; Sundays at 3 pm.

Beginning on April 4: Wednesdays at 2 pm; Thursdays at 7 pm; Fridays at 8 pm; Saturdays at 3 and 8 pm; Sundays at 3 pm.

Exceptions: There will be no 2 pm performance and no 7 pm performance on Wednesday, March 15 and Wednesday, March 29, no 7 pm performance on Friday, April 14 and no 3 pm performance on Sunday, April 16. There will be an additional 7 pm performance on Tuesday, April 11 and Wednesday, April 12.

Tickets are $65: Acorn Theatre, 410 W. 42nd St., NYC; FPAtheatre.com; 212-239-6200

Additional credits:
Costume Design by Michael Bevins; Lighting Design by Geoffrey D. Fishburn

FAMILY-FRIENDLY FACTORS:
-- No content notes. The theater recommends this show for age 13 and up.

No comments:

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the 2000 Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/.

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (http://ctarts.blogspot.com), an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for BroadwayWorld.com and is a theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer. She previously served as Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp.com and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle and the CT Press Club.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.

Copyright

All material is copyright 2008- 2017 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact reflectionsinthelight@gmail.com

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Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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