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New C. S. Lewis play, 'The Great Divorce' comes to Kansas City's Kauffman Center

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The national tour of C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce provides theatergoers with look at the journey to Heaven and Hell in a “provocative” exploration of human nature that features strong, vivid characters from the artistic mind of creater, Lewis, said Max McLean, artistic director of Fellowship for the Performing Arts.

McLean announced that Lewis’ The Great Divorce opens for two performances, 4 and 7:30p.m., Sat., Feb. 1, at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. The Kauffman Center hosts the premier national touring production that visits Charlotte, Charleston, Cleveland, Colorado Springs, and Columbus in 2014.

Previously, Fellowship for the Performing Arts produced The Screwtape Letters, which, the group said, enters it’s fourth year after playing over 50 major American cities. Box office records indicate that over 350,000 persons have viewed The Screwtape Letters including runs in New York, Chicago, and Washington, D.C.

Because of the continued success of The Screwtape Letters, McLean wanted to adapt The Great Divorce for the stage, he said.

"This is Lewis at his imaginative best," McLean said. In The Great Divorce, several of Lewis' most provocative characters take a bus ride from Hell to Paradise. But the bizarre question the play asks: Will they like it? Will they prefer Hell to Heaven? Are the doors of Hell really locked from the inside?”

Three actors transform into over a dozen different personality types to tell this fantastical morality tale about good and evil. Similar literary pieces explored the dimensions of Heaven and Hell, most notably, Dante’s Divine Comedy, so the notion of man’s ponderance of the afterlife is no new concept. But, each author takes a different glance at the expectations.

In The Great Divorce, on the bus is a man who is going to demand his ‘rights’ and a woman who can't stop grumbling. Characters also include a gentleman who ‘likes’ Heaven, but staying there means giving up his precious pet lizard. A world traveler who believes Heaven and Hell are just a propaganda stunt run by the same people helps develop the cast of characters. As each ghost is welcomed by a celestial spirit, the choice of staying or going back brings vivid clarity to the “great divorce” between Heaven and Hell.

"There are only two kinds of people in the end," Lewis writes in The Great Divorce, "those who say to God, 'Thy will be done,' and those to whom God says, in the end, 'Thy will be done.'" The Great Divorce remains one of Lewis' most influential pieces and rightly earns its place among classics such as The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, The Screwtape Letters and Mere Christianity.

The Great Divorce stars Tom Beckett (Bobby Boland, Epic Proportions and The Father on Broadway and Elbridge Gerry in HBO's John Adams), Joel Rainwater (The Lion King, National Tour) and Christa Scott-Reed (The Pitmen Painters on Broadway).

Fellowship for the Performing Arts is based in New York City with Max McLean as Founder and Artistic Director. Adapted by McLean and Brian Watkins, The Great Divorce is Directed by Bill Castellino, with the creative team including Executive Producer and General Manager Ken Denison of Aruba Productions, Scenic Designer Kelly James Tighe, Costume Designer Nicole Wee and Lighting Designer Michael Gilliam. Original Music and Sound Design are by John Gromada with Projections by Chris Kateff.

Fellowship for the Performing Arts' production of The Great Divorce celebrates the legacy of C.S. Lewis’ profoundly influential life and honors the 50th anniversary of his death on Nov. 22, 1963. In 2013, on that date, Lewis received one of Britain's highest honors, a memorial in Poets' Corner joining such legends as Chaucer, Shakespeare and Dickens.

The Great Divorce will play on Saturday, Feb. 1 at 4 and 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $29 to $59. Student seats are $25 (student ID required). For groups of 10 or more (including student groups) call 866.476.8707.

To purchase tickets, visit: greatdivorceonstage.com, call 816.994.7222 or visit the Kauffman Center Box Office Mondays through Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Fridays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and 90 minutes prior to performances.

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