The Great Divorce explores the concept of Heaven, Hell, and morality in a series of vignettes and casual conversational debates.
Should you see it?
Walking into The Great Divorce, I expected to be bombarded with heavy Christian themes given what little I know about C.S. Lewis’ writing. I was pleasantly misinformed: there are explicit references to God in the second half of this play, but they aren’t at all evangelical or heavy handed. The Great Divorce mainly portrays the experiences of the afterlife in a broader, more spiritual manner that I think everyone, regardless of belief, can relate to.
The show opens with seven people waiting for a bus: six are impatient and expectant, while the seventh man is confused. Alongside him we meet these six people and many others coming to terms with who – and where – they are. The bus will take them to Heaven but it’s not quite what everyone expected or desired. It’s gradually revealed that in the afterlife people can choose where they fit in best: Heaven, land of pure, selfless love, forgiveness, understanding, and contentment, or Hell, where notions of hard work and notoriety still exist. Neither choice is better or worse, just different: the peaceful nature of Heaven doesn’t suit everyone.
While some may find this part of the show dull and lacking narrative, I really enjoyed the exploration of sin, virtue, emotion, and motivation because I found a little bit of my own truths and vulnerabilities in each scene. The second half of the show introduces us to a new character, George MacDonald, who more directly explains this unorthodox version of the afterlife. I found his monologues a little dense and obvious but others seemed to enjoy his philosophies, showing that there’s easily something for everyone in this play.
In addition to the delightfully fresh and fascinating perspective on the afterlife, The Great Divorce offers some solid acting from the ensemble cast, all of whom pull at least double duty in portraying the 22 character in the show. Everyone rose to the challenges of this piece with no one upstaging or outshining anyone else; it felt like a true team effort and a labor of love.
Despite the good acting talents on display, however, my favorite aspects of this show were the writing, choreography, and costumes. The content is challenging, stimulating, and inspiring. The intricate choreography and staging, particularly at the start, is exquisite, well integrated, and really elevates the content. And the costumes by Jessica Rousseau proved to me that she is a rising design star in this city: in particular, the transformation of a tortured soul into a bonafide angel was just a brilliant choice of wardrobe.
All in all, the various elements of this show came together for a very spiritually fulfilling and stimulating time that along with its companion piece (The Screwtape Letters) sparked much interesting conversation among audience members.
But that’s just my opinion and I’d love to know what you think. Is this an envisioning of the afterlife that you enjoyed exploring or was it not what you expected in a bad way? Were the vignettes in the first half moving, the deep thoughts of the second half inspiring, or did the whole thing just bore you? Join the discussion in the comments below.
The 9th Hour Theater Company presents The Great Divorce at the GCTC Studio on alternating days until August 9th. Visit www.gctc.ca/plays/great-divorce for information on show times and how to buy advance tickets.