The Great Divorce

By Sarah Tackett

Why do you stay in prison when the door is so wide open?

The University of Kentucky’s theater department presents a theologically challenging play that provides insight into the social and psychological prisons of today. Rumi’s question haunts C.S. Lewis and maintains the underlying frustration throughout The Great Divorce. Why would those who had the doors of heaven open to them choose to reside in hell? The play adaptation captures the instances of this Oxford scholar’s novel that demonstrate the crossroads of this conflict, the moments where choices are made that either allow people into heaven or condemn them to hell.

Greytown begins at the bus stop—a purgatory of sorts—where people wait listlessly, preoccupied with their personal busy-ness and annoyed with others. The commonly experienced scene is unsettling and uncomfortable. It reminds one of the misery of waiting—the dull, joyless time wasted in the state of wanting. The viewer is immersed in the discomfort of insatiable reality and it is a great relief when the bus arrives, providing our escape. The characters on the bus remain unsatisfied and the narrator begins his interrogation of their insistent misery.

When the bus arrives at the golden destination, the travelers from the Greytown remain unimpressed and maintain their mood of general disdain. The narrator, pleased with arriving at such a beautiful place from such desolate beginnings, warily asks how long they may stay. He is told that there is no time limit that constrains them, and they can choose to stay as long as they like.

The conversations begin here between the inhabitants of heaven and hell. Earthly acquaintances are reunited at the point where their paths divided. The conversations focus on the direction each took considering their perceptions of life. The scholars debate between infinite inquiry and definite faith. Arguments arise about judgment and forgiveness, cynicism and amazement, pride and reverence, and—pointedly—possession versus love.

The profundity of this play lies in the subtle differences in each person’s perspective of life revealed through the arguments. They result in a series of powerful epiphanies for the audience, which is underscored by the feeling of intense frustration. The fact that the characters from hell refuse to see through the lens of those in heaven furthers the discomfort of stubborn resistance, and makes the bars of Rumi’s prison apparent.

Pride, fear, self-pity, judgment, jealousy and apathy all hinder the residents of hell from seeing the beauty of heaven. These psychological constraints build formidable walls causing this great divorce between heaven and hell. Those who are consumed with these mental barriers see them as impenetrable forces of oppression and choose to suffer within them rather than walk out.

When considering this play in our current social context, it is unsettling to notice that the same conditions of psychological oppression are an advertising gold mine. Using the proper toothpaste is essential to social success. One should be deathly afraid of the little monsters that make your toenails yellow. And if a person is a little purple ball that happens to feel rejected and/or pitiful, they need to take a Zoloft. These emotional prisons are both emphasized and justified through commercials, and can only be resolved through the spiritually empty gesture of consumerism.

Upon considering religion and the war-like present, it is noticeable that the subtle gray areas of right and wrong are lost. Morality has been conveniently reduced into the black and white dichotomy of good versus evil. Lewis’ play questions this duality. He investigates the clarity of the division between heaven and hell, good and evil, and provocatively proposes that the two are not mutually exclusive.

The performing ensemble of students does a fantastic job of relaying such complicated theoretical and theological insights, and brings the audience into a higher level of understanding. If you are planning to attend, expect an excellent performance from the mother character and her friend who debate the tragic loss of her child. Also prepare for an outstanding show from the gentleman who plays the “puppet of self-pity” assisted by a very convincing husband and wife duo.

The Great Divorce will be held at the Singletary Center’s Recital Hall from February 24th to the 27th, with an afternoon matinee on Sunday. For ticket info. call 257-4929. Other theater events this weekend include The Lexington Children’s Theater’s Cows Don’t Fly and Other Know Facts, info. 254-4546. Transylvania University is putting on the classic Death of a Salesman, info. 233-8120. The Lexington Public Library Theater presents Complaints of a Dutiful Daughter, info. 231-5592. And Variety Live offers The Moscow Circus in A Russian Winter’s Tale at the Opera House, info. 233-4567.

For all you art lovers, The Lexington Art League hosts another Fourth Friday exhibiting their Nude collection, this Friday the 25th. Concerning music, the band whose name is inscribed on my Trapper Keeper returns to The Dame this Saturday the 26th. Personal favorite J. Roddy Walston and the Business will perform that night along with heavy hitters 10 Foot Pole, and our local, talented guys from Scourge of the Sea. n