This evening I saw the play "A Bright Particular Star" by Ron Reed, in its world premiere at Pacific Theatre in Vancouver. (PT is a wonderful theater company run by Christians which does excellent, thought-provoking plays; not all about religious themes, but always making you think about ultimate things and generating great discussions afterwards).
The play is about author George MacDonald (the one who was such an influence on C.S. Lewis) and his family, particularly his daughter Lilia and her struggle between wanting to be an actress yet wanting to serve the Lord and please her father. MacDonald's personality is complex. He loves Lilia and sees her acting as a gift from God, and believes that she should do what makes her heart light, because she can neither increase nor decrease God's pleasure in her by what she does. However he seems unduly influenced by Victorian Christian society around him, which says that it isn't proper for a Christian to act in plays unless they are morality plays like "Pilgrim's Progress." He himself seems incapable of living his own belief that one can serve the Lord and not be doing specifically "Christian" work; he can't seem to write a novel without padding it with sermons. In some ways he seems to know this and desire for his daughter to be free from this constriction, and yet he waffles back and forth between forbidding her to act in secular theater and freeing her to follow her heart.
Lilia is a complex character as well. She wants more than anything to be an actress, and (rather like Eric Liddel with his running) she feels God's pleasure when she does so. Yet she questions whether her own sense of what God wants her to do is reliable, since so many people seem to give her flack about it. On top of all this, she is in love with a young man who is wealthy but fickle; his enthusiastic support for her acting goes only so far. As soon as he realises he will lose his inheritence if he marries a woman who insists on performing Shakespeare instead of serving the poor like a good Christian woman, he changes his mind. She is faced with losing his love and a comfortable life if she follows her true calling. I won't give away the ending, in case this play ever hits the big time and you get a chance to see it.
Here's an excerpt from a review of the play by Tim Anderson:
"A BRIGHT PARTICULAR STAR is a play well-named. This historical drama about the family of Christian literary giant George MacDonald can also be seen as an apologia for Vancouver’s Pacific Theatre, who present its premiere. The play focuses on George’s daughter Lilia, whose love for truth – both scriptural and aesthetic, takes her to the boundary places of righteous Victorian society.
"Playwright Ron Reed’s gift for multi-threaded dialogue shines throughout, where unintentional confessions flow from misunderstandings and assumptions. A measure of his accomplishment is how much is left unsaid yet remains ever-present – rare is the script that writes silence so well.
"In a genre where there is ample temptation to do tedious explication and scene-setting, every witticism and crafted clumsiness advances the story. Firmly grounded in the period’s cultural context where bombast and sophistication lie closely together, we are introduced to a number of the influential persons who traveled in the MacDonald circle, including Mark Twain and Lewis Carroll. Appropriately, however, it is the shadow of Wm. Shakespeare that looms most large. The playwright’s interweaving of Shakespearean texts provides a play-within-the-play motif that is more than a riff on the Bard’s favored trick. It is a light hand that ably handles texts of such heft and uses them to provide both gravitas and illumination for these breathing characters.
[omitting some descriptions of the acting performance by this particular cast]
"Crowning all these performances is Rebecca de Boer’s Lilia, who embodies her character with a spirit of humility and wounded determination. Lilia’s preternatural talent is made all the more precious by the self-doubting vessel into which it has been poured. De Boer’s Lilia captures the pre-Raphaelite ideal of a young woman who at last touches beauty and, after being praised, is told not to partake of it. But against such banal powers of darkness Lilia’s star power is in her devotion to light itself, wherever it is found.
"Appropriate to the theme of faith and the arts, A Bright Particular Star is “safe” for Christians – there are no egregious sins committed on stage, only the mildest of cursing, and there are real and significant consequences for moral lapses. But what I imagine George McDonald would like most about this play is the lack of safety Reed provides for fusty self-satisfied religion, the deft manner in which he addresses those who would be kill-joys for Christ.
"Only someone who has been blessed by the overly safe environment of the faithful can understand the sugary daggers of well-intentioned betrayal that go on there in the name of the gospel. But for those who long to live that gospel in a world with the texture of art, they will find in this tender story a place where creativity and sacrifice kiss. A child of such provenance can only shine."