Although The Logos Theatre is a somewhat small apostolate, tucked away in the South, on the buckle of the Bible Belt, far from the madding crowds and the madness and mayhem of Broadway and Hollywood, it punches beyond its weight and, to switch metaphors, it lights candles of joy and beauty, dispelling with the light of the Gospel the darkness of despair and ugliness.
Writing for The Imaginative Conservative about Bob Jones University’s celebrated art museum, which contains the finest private collection of sacred art in North America, Father Dwight Longenecker described the museum as “the jewel in the buckle of the Bible Belt.” Sometime after Father Longenecker wrote these words, he and I attended a performance at BJU of King Lear. I was inspired to write, also for The Imaginative Conservative, of my great admiration for the production in general and for the “simply masterful performance as Shylock” by Bob Jones III: “Who would have thought that Bob Jones III, chancellor and former president of BJU, could be such a great actor, sensitive to the work of Shakespeare and quite clearly a lover of beauty? Like his father, Bob Jones, Jr., the art connoisseur who assembled the fine collection of Renaissance art on the BJU campus, he is able to see beauty as a path to the divine.” Such divine beauty was also evident when I took my daughter to a performance at BJU of Gioachino Rossini’s La Cenerentola.
What is true of Bob Jones University with respect to what might be called its imaginative conservative approach to Christianity and culture is equally true of its satellites and acolytes, such as the truly dynamic Logos Theatre located up the road from BJU in Taylors, South Carolina. Having heard great things about this theatre’s stage adaptation of C.S. Lewis’ The Horse and His Boy, I took my daughter to see it last week. What a joyous evening it was! Adapted for the stage by the very talented Nicole Chavers Stratton, it was all too easy for my eleven-year-old daughter and me to willingly suspend our disbelief as we were spirited into Narnia.
One of the many aspects of this play which swept me into wonderland was its low-tech approach. High on hands-on human ingenuity and mercifully free of electronically-generated special effects, it had something of the true spirit of Narnia about it, close to the closeted comfort zone of wardrobes and hearths and home, and a million miles from the green screen SFX of Disney. One of the highlights of the production was the life-sized and life-like puppets which played the parts of the two talking horses, Bree and Hwin, as well as the all-important part of Aslan himself. It’s hard to convey in words how life-like these puppets appeared to be, mimicking the real-life movements of horses almost to perfection. I was spell-bound by “the achieve of; the mastery of the thing,” as Gerard Manley Hopkins might say, as was Evangeline, my daughter. Coupled with the movement of the horses, in an audio-visual dance timed to perfection, were the voices of the actors. Micah Hamilton who played the voice of Bree was magnificent in the manner in which his voice had something of the deep whinnying friskiness of a war-horse-proud stallion, too big and self-important for his shoes, echoing the prideful priggishness of Lewis’ original character.
It would be something of an exaggeration to say that the masterful puppetry upstaged the actors, most of whom were simply splendid, but it was nonetheless refreshing to see traditional human artistry, in the form of puppeteering, trumping the usually ubiquitous computer-generated animation, the latter of which seems to violate the incarnational simplicity and spirit of the stage, regardless of its legitimate place on the screen.
Another aspect of this adaptation of Lewis’ story which pleased me immensely was the apparent deferential and reverential nod in the direction of Lewis’ great friend and mentor, J.R.R. Tolkien. This was somewhat evident in the portrayal and appearance of the Hermit of the Southern March, who struck me as being uncannily akin to Gandalf, and was evident more obviously in the appearance of three rustic Narnians who looked and acted very suspiciously like hobbits, an impression which was accentuated by their emergence from a round door from what appeared to be a hole in the ground.
My suspicion that the folks at The Logos Theatre were admirers of Tolkien, as well as Lewis, was confirmed by the back page of the program, which advertised not only David Payne’s celebrated one-man show, “An Evening with C.S. Lewis,” in its list of future performances, but also Payne’s two-man show “Lewis & Tolkien: Of Wardrobes and Rings.” Scheduled for consecutive nights, on All Saints and All Souls (November 1 and 2 for the non-liturgically minded), I’m already planning to place both these shows on my calendar.
Although The Logos Theatre is a somewhat small or hobbit-sized apostolate, tucked away in the South, on the buckle of the Bible Belt, far from the madding crowds and the madness and mayhem of Broadway and Hollywood, it punches beyond its weight and, to switch metaphors, it lights candles of joy and beauty, dispelling with the light of the Gospel the darkness of despair and ugliness. I understand that people have come from as far away as England and from California and Texas in order to watch this celebrated production of The Horse and His Boy, and, having seen it, I can understand why. We are truly blessed to have such a beautiful candle so close to our home. Were such candles to be lit in small towns across the United States we would see a cultural renewal which would revive the spirit and rekindle the soul of the nation. May it come to pass.
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Editor’s Note: The featured image is the poster of The Logos Theatre‘s production of “The Horse and His Boy,” adapted to the stage from C.S. Lewis’ book.