David Payne has performed his self-penned, one-man show, "An Evening with C. S. Lewis," more than 800 times since its inception. He continues to tour the U.S., with roughly 100 shows each year, the actor told the Source in a recent interview. The production, which lands at Bend's Tower Theatre Friday, is somewhat improvisational, he says, as he responds throughout each performance to cues he picks up from the audience.
- David Payne plays C. S. Lewis in a one-man show, appearing for just one night at the Tower.
"The play, from when it first started out to where it is now, is almost two different plays," he explains. "It was built on an initial foundation, but as you go along performing it, the audience tells you what works and what doesn't. You end up saying (during a performance), 'well, they don't seem to react to that.' The audience has pretty much told me what they want to hear."
The idea for the show began to gel while Payne was performing "Mist in the Mourning," another Lewis biopic he created based on the author's story of grieving the loss of his wife, Joy, to cancer in 1960. The two had been married just four years. "I was peppered with lots of questions after the show," Payne recalls. "The sort of questions they were asking I thought would make a great play.
"What I did was, I started to do a general research into his biography, and also the questions that people would ask me. Then I selected what I thought was most interesting. What I wanted to do was to find out what affected his life, what shaped his life."
Since many of Lewis' works reflect a Christian perspective, I asked Payne whether he felt the show might appeal primarily to Christian audiences.
"People say to me, 'Is this a Christian play?' And I say, 'No, it's a play,'" he says. "It has some Christian content, because any play about C.S. Lewis, to be honest and truthful, would have to deal with that. But is it an evangelistic thing? No, it's a play.
"I remember when I was doing the play in Tennessee, a very highly-respected reviewer called me before the play and he said, 'Do you include religious themes in this play?' And I said, 'Well, you cannot do a play about C. S. Lewis without reflecting that he was an atheist and he became a Christian.' He said, 'Don't you think that's propaganda?' I said, 'Well, wait a minute. If I told you about a play that was coming up about a homosexual relationship, would you question whether that was propaganda?' He said, 'Well, no.' I said, 'Well, why would you question whether what I'm doing is propaganda, simply because I'm including the truth of a man?' Actually, he came along and gave me a great review."
Of his favorite parts in the production, Payne says he particularly enjoys dealing with Lewis' relationship with his wife. "That's a wonderful romance story," he enthuses, adding, "I like it all, really. I love Lewis' humor. A lot of people will be absolutely surprised how much they laugh. He was a very funny man."
To be sure, this is an intimate show. The set is minimal, and there's only one scene. "I can work with just an armchair, a small coffee table and a pot of tea," says Payne. "A lot of people tell me, 'I felt I was in Lewis' living room,' or 'I felt you were talking just to me.' That's what it's all about."