WBU Theatre troupe to present Shadowlands in second Spencer appearance

PLAINVIEW – Wayland Baptist University’s theatre department is heading for the hills again, this time to present the dramatic story of Christian author C.S. Lewis. As the closing event of the second annual Sacramento Mountain Theatre Collaborative, WBU theatre will be performing Shadowlands at the renowned Spencer Theater in Ruidoso, N.M. on June 23 at 8 p.m.

The group will present a benefit performance featuring scenes from the play at 8 p.m. on Saturday, June 9, at the Harral Studio Theatre on the Wayland campus in Plainview. Donations will be taken at the door.

The university’s first foray in Ruidoso was the summer of 2006, when they spent three weeks with high school and college theatre students, spending long days learning acting and other theatre skills while preparing for a performance of short plays at Ruidoso High School. The finale was a production of the comedy Art at the Spencer, performed by three WBU theatre alums and current graduate students.

This year’s adventure to the mountains will be a bit different. WBU theatre director Dr. Marti Runnels, who directed last year’s Art, will turn over the directing duties to Jim McDermott for Shadowlands while he takes the stage as Lewis in the play. McDermott is a doctoral student in theatre at Texas Tech University.

The role is a familiar one, as Runnels played Lewis in a 1992 production at Wayland and at Second Baptist Church in Lubbock. Though he’s enjoyed the academic setting as theatre director and professor and now co-chair of the Division of Fine Arts, Runnels is an experienced actor who has played in everything from Shakespeare to Woody Allen. He has performed across the U.S. and overseas, including a production of Del Shore’s Cheatin’ in the Edinburgh International Theatre Festival Fringe in Scotland. For the summer’s upcoming production, Runnels dusts off his script and pulls a few other WBU theatre veterans out of storage for the production as well.

Teresa Harrelson Moore, coordinator of student activities at WBU, will play Joy, Lewis’ wife. The role may be new for Moore, but the venue and the stage are familiar. Moore grew up in Ruidoso, attended Ruidoso High School, and graduated from Alamogordo High School in 1990, active in music and cheerleading. In college, she dabbled in musical theatre, then joined a creative performance group after Wayland and performed across the U.S. and Canada. Since returning to WBU in 2000 on staff, she has appeared in several plays under Runnels’ direction, including The Nerd, Dancing at Lughnasa and The Mousetrap.

Cory Norman, another WBU theatre alum who appeared in Art in 2006, returns for Shadowlands as well, playing Lewis’ brother Warnie. While at Wayland, Norman appeared in nearly every theatre production and returned for a few after graduating, sharing the stage with Moore in Lughnasa.

Peyton Thornton, who played a child in The Nerd, will appear in Shadowlands as the son of Joy Gresham, Douglas. Thornton recently completed the third grade at Plainview schools and has had other acting roles. David Howle, a member of the religion faculty at Wayland, fills the role of Rev. Harrington. Tim Fisher, a WBU senior who has been in several productions, will play roles of professor Alan Greg and a doctor.

Chris Moore, a WBU theatre graduate who is now technical theatre director, will play the role of Riley, an Oxford professor, and smaller roles of a priest and a waiter in the production. Stan Thomas, who works for the Ruidoso Chamber of Commerce, will play the roles of Dr. Oakley, an Oxford professor, and the clerk.

Other roles will be filled by high school students participating in the theatre collaborative, an intensive, two-week experience in Ruidoso with mentors including faculty and current WBU theatre students. Jessica Hall, a student from Dumas High School, will play the roles of the registrar, the nurse and a woman. Sarah Buckland, a student in Weatherford, will serve as stage manager for the production.

Runnels said reprising Shadowlands was an easy choice for the Spencer Theatre especially because of the timing.

“C.S. Lewis’ works are enjoying a revival of interest that’s pretty overwhelming right now,” said Runnels, noting Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia series and the Lord of the Rings series by friend and contemporary J.R.R. Tolkien have seen renewed interest with the movie versions.

“People are fascinated by approaches to religion that are not as overtly religious. Because of that interest, I thought it was a perfect time to revive this play for the Spencer,” he added. “Last year’s comments were that people were glad to have a production that made them think a little, so we’re providing a different work for their season that is appreciated.”

The play by William Nicholson is based on the personal life of Lewis, who penned the Narnia series and other Christian fiction and non-fiction books.

“Nicholson’s work is a beautiful, moving play about this famous British author and how his life and beliefs take a turn when he meets the American Jewish and divorced poet Joy Davidman Gresham,” Runnels explained. “Joy left the U.S. and an abusive spouse with her stoic young son in tow to ultimately find warmth and comfort sharing her life with the inveterate bachelor Lewis, despite the open disdain and ridicule of his friends at Oxford.”

Runnels said the story traces the pair’s friendship through written correspondence, their first meeting for tea, a marriage of convenience and finally a deep, passionate love affair. Balanced with the romantic scenes, the play includes witty repartee between Lewis and his Oxford don friends as well as his brother.

Runnels notes that Shadowlands began life as a drama produced on British television, then broadcast in the United States in 1986. The screen version then became a longer play that arrived on Broadway at the Brooks Atkinson Theater more than 15 years ago, starring Nigel Hawthorne and Jane Alexander. A few years later, the play was made into a 1993 movie starring Anthony Hopkins and Debra Winger.

Tickets for the Spencer Theater production are $30 per person and include a reception afterwards with refreshments. Tickets may be reserved through the WBU theatre office at (806) 291-1060 or the office of alumni services, (806) 291-3600.

The play performance is part of an alumni and friends getaway weekend to Ruidoso, organized by the Office of Alumni Services. The weekend begins with a free brunch on Saturday morning at First Baptist Church, followed by an optional golf scramble at The Links course, featuring a $105 inclusive fee. The afternoon is free for sightseeing, shopping and relaxing in the majestic mountains, and the play takes the Spencer stage at 8 p.m.

Attendees are responsible for their own lodging and transportation arrangements in Ruidoso but should purchase tickets to the play and golf scramble through the alumni office by June 15. For more information, call Danny Andrews at (806) 291-3603.