Provo Theatre Company
David Dixon, left, C. Adam Stallard and Matthew Price Davis in "Swallow the Sun."

SWALLOW THE SUN, Provo Theatre Company, Provo, through May 24 (801-830-4553); running time: 2 hours 10 minutes (one intermission)

PROVO — Award-winning playwright Mahonri Stewart of Orem follows author C.S. Lewis' conversion to Christianity from avowed atheism in this original play.

Stewart, who also directs, is with the New Play Project, a nonprofit group formed recently to carry on members' theater experience at Brigham Young University.

As this intriguing and compelling production opens, Lewis, known by his nickname, Jack, and his buddy, Paddy, are in the military in World War I. They make a pact that if tragedy strikes either one of them, his family will be taken care of by the the other. So when Paddy, played by Jeff Bond, is killed, Lewis steps in and cares for Paddy's mother, Janie Moore, played by Tatum Haugen, and her daughter, Maureen, played by Rachel Stewart.

They move in together while Lewis, played by C. Adam Stallard, is attending Oxford, and thus begins the strange, lifelong relationship that has Lewis' family mystified. With that in the background, Lewis defends his atheism despite the efforts of his father, Albert, played by James Goldberg, and his brother, Warnie, played by Amos Omer.

The senior Lewis was estranged from his sons after their mother died when the boys were children. That estrangement lasted until they were adults. C.S.'s brother, Warnie, meanwhile, says he will join his brother's conversion when C.S. Lewis is ready to take that leap of faith.

The change comes gradually, and, according to the play, it is a spiritual conversion influenced in part by long discussions with Lewis' then colleagues at Oxford — J.R.R. Tolkien, played by David Dixon, and Hugo Dyson, played by Matthew Price Davis. The spirit of Albert Lewis, after he dies, also influences his atheist son to believe in Christ.

Stallard carries the lengthy, two-hour performance in the lead role. Long, sometimes tedious discussions about religion are broken up with humor.

C.S. Lewis' boyhood friend, Arthur Greeves, played by Cole Hooley, offers comic relief.

Even with its tedium, the play has a fascination about it that holds the audience's attention.

At one point in his conversion, Lewis utters, "I think I need to become a child to grow up."

Then he says that to convert to Christ is to become a "child of the universe." When he finally admits his Christianity, he says he has found a gateway in his life and that he "caught the sun in my teeth and swallowed it."

The title of the play then becomes clear: it is to accept God.

More than a dozen scene changes are the only distraction on the tiny, open stage at the Provo Theatre Company. The stage is barren, except for the furniture that is moved in and out repetitively. Sound effects add to the drama, but the quality is poor.

Despite its production weaknesses, the story line is wonderful. "Swallow the Sun" is an original play well worth seeing.

Sensitivity rating: Mild profanity.

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