Lewis and Tolkien Review – The Meaning of Friendship

Michael Beattie and Phil Crowley in LEWIS AND TOLKIEN - Photo by Larry Sandez
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Written and directed by Dean Batali, LEWIS AND TOLKIEN makes its world premiere in Los Angeles by the Actors Co-op Theatre Company. When asked what drew him to the relationship between C.S. Lewis (“The Chronicles of Narnia”) and J.R.R. Tolkien (“The Lord of the Rings”), Batali noted that the play was about faith (but also) “about language and myth and history and friendship…a later-in-life meeting between the two men…turned into this play…takes place in the autumn of 1963 at a time when these two men – who had once been very close and extremely influential towards each other’s work – had drifted far apart…Tolkien never accepted Lewis’s marriage to a divorced woman…(as well as) issues of jealousy and judgment.”

Phil Crowley, Bianca Akbiyik, and Michael Beattie – Photo by Larry Sandez

The time is the fall of 1963, and the place is Oxford, England, at the famous “Rabbit Room” of the Eagle and Child Pub. J.R.R. Tolkien (Michael Beattie) has come to the familiar pub hoping to mend fences with C.S. Lewis (Phil Crowley) over a few pints and long-ago memories. Years before, the two men had been close buddies – but life intervened; and they drifted apart. Now both are older – and hopefully wiser – and it may be time for them to talk out their differences and perhaps resolve them. With bar maid Veronica (Bianca Akbiyik) generously keeping their vocal cords well lubricated, Tolkien and Lewis begin to remember and reminisce. Of course, their witty rejoinders and snappish responses still emerge to make that conversation fun and entertaining.

Phil Crowley, Bianca Akbiyik, and Michael Beattie – Photo by Larry Sandez

Author/director Dean Batali has crafted a fascinating “what-if” scenario in which two literary luminaries get into rousing and humorous debate as they start to learn the value of their friendship, a friendship almost lost to time and situation. Kudos to Beattie and Crowley, who do an excellent job of portraying the famed writers, warts and all. Congratulations are also in order for the production team, including Joel Daavid for his outstanding set design, so cozy and pub-like. Vicki Conrad’s costumes, Martha Carter’s lighting, and Chris Moscatiello’s sound set the scene for this absorbing slice of history. LEWIS AND TOLKIEN will definitely appeal to the readers in the audience, as well as to folks interested in engaging history centered on two celebrated authors who made a lasting mark in the fantasy genre. But, above all, LEWIS AND TOLKIEN is a simple story about friendship. To quote Batali: “I want (the audience) to understand that friendship takes work, but it’s worth it.”

Michael Beattie and Bianca Akbiyik – Photo by Larry Sandez

LEWIS AND TOLKIEN runs through December 3, 2023, with performances at 7:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and at 2:30 p.m. on Sundays (additional matinees on Saturday 11/4, 11/25 and 12/2). The Actors Co-op Theatre Company performs at the Crossley Theatre, 1760 N. Gower Street, Hollywood, CA 90028 (on the campus of the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood).  Tickets are $35 (seniors $30; students and SAG-AFTRA and WGA union members $25; group rates available). For information and reservations, call 323-462-8460 or go online.

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