C.S. Lewis is well known in Christian circles as an apologist and creator of the “Chronicles of Narnia” books. Now a stage show based on his life, “Christmas with C.S. Lewis,” looks deeper into the author’s life.
“Christmas with C.S. Lewis” will be at the Lyric Theater in Birmingham Dec. 13 and 14.
David Payne, founder of Bird and Baby Productions and writer and performer, said that it’s most appropriate for ages 12 and up, has two 45-min acts and that “people will be surprised that they’ll enjoy it” because “they will laugh so much.”
The play is a byproduct of the pandemic. Headed into 2020, Payne had between 70 and 80 performances booked for his most well-known production, “An Evening with C.S. Lewis.” When the pandemic closed theaters, he was looking for a creative outlet when his agent asked if he would write a holiday-themed show based on the author’s life.
After almost nine months “of sheer joy” writing the show, he did nine performances to test its acceptance by audiences. It was a success, selling 87% of the tickets for that run. It increased to 55 shows in 2022 and 62 scheduled for 2023.
The Christmas version has a similar format to the “An Evening” show. In both, Payne plays Lewis hosting a group of Americans in his home where he reminisces about his life.
In “Christmas,” Lewis discusses some of the same life-altering events shares about in “An Evening” but highlights Christmas traditions as well as how the meaning of Christmas has changed throughout his life.
“When Lewis was a young man, he became an atheist so for 20 years. Christmas didn’t mean anything to him. Then he becomes a Christian and thereafter, Christmas was very important to him,” Payne said.
Some of the challenges Lewis reflects on include losing his mother at age nine and then being sent to boarding school, which led to Lewis rejecting his childhood faith. He describes Christmas at war and how it and events that followed led him to reevaluate his position on God and Christianity. Then finally he talks about the sudden loss of his American wife to cancer and how that affected his journey.
Payne was able to relate in a personal way to this last event. Just before Christmas in 2014, he lost his wife to an aneurysm.
“I went through that agony as Lewis went through it,” Payne said. “I think that’s very important. Christmas is a great time, obviously, to be with family, and the important thing is the Christ child celebrations.
“But it’s also a time to reflect that there are those who will be suffering over Christmas and probably, if they’ve lost a loved one, Christmases thereafter will never be the same. [Lewis] talks about that and the strength and support he got from those who were surrounding him after his wife died, which leads him to talk about the value of friendship.”
Laughter and tears
Though Lewis shares about really hard times in his life, there is a lot of laughter to add to the pathos.
During the time of his initial research on Lewis’ life, Payne met Douglas Gresham, American-British actor and Lewis’ stepson. They became good friends and Gresham added a great deal to what Payne had already learned.
After a C.S. Lewis Weekend at a Nashville university where was provided the keynote, Payne asked Gresham if he would be able to attend and critique the latest version of “An Evening with C.S. Lewis” he was performing the next night.
Gresham told him that he couldn’t stay, but he told Payne, “I’ll tell you this, it better be funny. You cannot be in the room with C.S. Lewis without loads of laughter.”
Daniel Payne, David’s son and one of the three performers who plays Lewis during the tour, said, “The script is brilliantly crafted to take you on this journey. The initial part of it is sort of some history and some trivia, which is also compelling facts, like going to a good TED Talk, but being led by CS Lewis.”
Learning and telling others about C.S. Lewis has been a lifetime pursuit of Payne’s and he’s passing it along to his son.
“C.S. Lewis wasn’t in any way sophisticated. He always dressed in a way that he looked as though he couldn’t afford a good suit. When he furnished his office, he would go into a store and the first thing he saw, he’d buy,” David Payne said.
“In many ways, he was a very humble man though he became a legend in his own lifetime and yet found it all rather amusing. He didn’t get all puffed up about it. He was a very generous man. He gave most of his book royalties away, because the tax man came and said, ‘You should have paid us first,’” Payne continued.
“But [he was] also a very sincere man. He had a great way disseminating basic Christian truth. He was able to look at it from another perspective and reiterate the Christian truth that you had already believed, but you now saw it in a different direction. He made me think about my Christian faith more than I have before.”
To learn more about Bird and Baby Productions and how to find locations and tickets for “A Christmas with CS Lewis,” go to birdandbabyproductions.com.