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Actor brings C.S. Lewis to life for GACS students

NORCROSS - The spirit of C.S. Lewis appeared Thursday at Greater Atlanta Christian School in the form of a local actor and

playwright.

Tom Key performed his one-man play depicting the life of the "Chronicles of Narnia" author before about 800 high school students.

He has been performing "C.S. Lewis on Stage" for almost three decades. But Key's appearance at GACS was partially inspired by the film adaptation of "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," one of the highest-grossing movies of 2005.

Using excerpts from Lewis's "The Screwtape Letters," "The Dark Tower," and other works, Key brought to the stage the life of the brilliant but troubled author. Though he depicted many characters, for most of the time he spoke as Lewis himself. He focused on the author's inner spiritual struggle. Once an atheist, Lewis converted to Christianity when he was in

his 30s.

"Does anyone search for God? Does a mouse search for a cat?" Key asked.

Key threw in little-known facts about Lewis, making his performance a more personal look at the author. Throughout, he alternated between humorous and dramatic monologues.

He spoke of Lewis's single-jointed thumb, his ancient Irish settler dog, and how his mother got terminal cancer and died when he

was 10.

"We lost her gradually," Key said as Lewis. "She was slowly taken away from our lives in the form of nurses, morphine, delirium."

At the end of his play, Key received enthusiastic applause and a number of whistles from the students.

"C.S. Lewis on Stage" is a 90-minute show, but Key performed an abridged 45-minute version for the GACS students. He gave two performances, each in front of 400 students from grades eight to 12.

Key played the character of Scrooge for three years in an Atlanta production of Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol." Key is also a playwright who is best known for co-authoring the musical "Cotton Patch Gospel."

Clif Jones, who has been a drama teacher at GACS for 29 years, invited Key to talk to his students following his performance.

"We've been very fortunate to get someone who has been performing in Atlanta for a long time," Jones said. "He is an Atlanta artist and a Christian performer."

The characters of Aslan, the White Witch and the Pevensies were noticeably absent from the play. Key did not focus at all on Lewis's most famous work, the "Chronicles of Narnia" series. Instead, he described the religious struggles and childhood drawings that would later inspire the books.

Annalise Peters, 17, enjoyed another Lewis work, "The Screwtape Letters," which is required reading in some GACS classes. She didn't mind that Key didn't mention Narnia in his

performance.

"I didn't expect him to," she said. "Now I'm definitely going to go out and read some of his other works."

It was Lewis's life and writing that inspired Key to spend decades performing the one-man show. When asked by a student what inspired him about Lewis, Key responded:

"I continue to learn. At age 26, I was dazzled. At 55, I can lean on his writings. His writings are like having an old friend," he said.