Senior Theater Project: The Great Divorce 

Written by Isabelle Hendrich, Editor in Chief 

Photos by Dana Rice

DAYTON, TN – The Great Divorce play is the senior project of director Dana Rice. Rice is a double major in Theater and Marketing at Bryan College. Rice will also be the assistant directing for The Murder Room, which will be performed on April 20 – 23. 

In her adaptation of The Great Divorce, a short story written by C.S. Lewis, Rice masterfully includes many poignant scenes and dialogue that brings the story to life. By having the opportunity to preview the play, it can be stated with certainty that this production will be remembered for a very long time. 

“I really like allegories, like Pilgrim’s Progress, or stories that are fictional, whimsical, that have theological themes behind them . . . I listened to the audio book and the way they presented the book, just with the different characters’ voices and everything really made me envision it,” Rice said on why she decided to choose The Great Divorce

The twelve cast members include Martina Ferguson, Hannah Westerman, Jillian McKinney, Brynna Phagan, Haddie Ward, Eliana Martin, Madeline Fournier, Cameron Cook, Marcus Heil, Caleb Mulligan, Josiah Gelatt and Hunter Landreth. Each of the cast members play two to four characters, making a total of thirty-one characters in the play. 

While there have been several other productions based off of the book, no formal script has been made available online. After asking the C.S. Lewis Foundation for permission to perform The Great Divorce, Rice spent three months writing the script from August through October. Auditions were held in November. 

 Because of a request from the C.S. Lewis Foundation, tickets are free for the show, but they were reserved so quickly for Feb. 17 and Feb. 18 another performance was added on Feb. 16. Attending the production is worth one Christian Formation Credit for students. 

During the production of the show, Rice experienced several setbacks. Rice hoped to make the stage green, either by painting it or having turf laid across it. Since astro-turf is expensive, she looked for alternative options until a generous donor paid for about 80% of the costs for the turf. 

Describing another set back, Rice said, “Honestly, there has been a lot of spiritual warfare because this play unlike a lot of other plays in that it has the gospel is present through it, so there has been a lot of small ways the enemy has tried to get a foothold.” 

Despite this, one blessing Rice experienced is that she wanted a Scottish sash with a broach for one of the characters. She was able to find it at a thrift store after only a few minutes of searching. 

While The Great Divorce is the first play Rice has directed by herself, Rice said she really loved doing it. The most challenging part of directing, according to Rice, was trusting that God was directing her steps. 

On her favorite parts of the play, Rice said, “My favorite part is scene 10 in the play, towards the end, is the man with the lizard. He’s got this lizard on his shoulder . . . it’s a very dramatic scene and it has a very present reality. But I just love the man with the lizard scene because he is also one of the only ghosts who chooses to go to heaven, he chooses to give up what he is holding most dear as a ghost, which is the lizard and so I find a lot of hope in that.”  

Martina Ferguson plays the Narrator in The Great Divorce. Since The Great Divorce was written by C.S. Lewis from a first person perspective, the narrator in the play takes on this role to better help the audience understand what is happening. When asked what her favorite aspect of playing her character was, Ferguson said, “All of the character development I got to do because the narrator in the script was practically a blank slate.” 

Ferguson said that as the Narrator, she almost gets to experience the play like an audience member in that she asks many questions that the audience is probably thinking and she is learning about certain aspects of the play for the first time as the Narrator. 

“It gave me the opportunity to do all of these exercises, I ended up giving the narrator a whole backstory, a whole personality that explains a lot of the lines she says and a lot of the acting choices I had to make, so it was a really great opportunity,” Ferguson said. 

Brynna Phagen is a junior double major at Bryan College in Liberal Arts and Communication, Media, and Culture, and she portrays several different roles in the production. 

“I think my favorite part is just about the experience, I guess looking at the book, and being able to dive into those characters and see how that could be portrayed on the stage. It’s just been really cool to see the book that I love so much come to life,” Phagen said. 

On the theology of the play, Phagen said, “I can’t say that I agree with all of it, but I don’t think we are supposed necessarily, because the thing about The Great Divorce is that it is not a literal story of what C.S. Lewis thinks heaven and hell are like. But I do think it is a really interesting way to look at free will and what we do with it in our earthly lives.”

At the end of the show, there will be a talk back, where audience members can write down questions they have for either Rice or Alexis Marsh, an instructor of performing arts at Bryan College. Once all of the questions have been collected, Marsh and Rice will read them from a box. 

Isabelle Hendrich is a senior communication major and history minor at Bryan College. Besides running, Hendrich likes to read and do crafts. She is a triplet whose siblings, Benjamin and Savannah, are also attending Bryan College.