C. S. Lewis impersonators had a banner year in 1998 during the author's numerous 100th birthday celebrations. Those who knew Lewis consider Anthony Hopkins's portrayal in the film Shadowlands slightly neater than was the original "Jack" Lewis, while applauding Joss Ackland's more rumpled and rumbling Lewis in the TV movie of the same name; even David Suchet, who plays Hercule Poirot on the Agatha Christie series seen on PBS and elsewhere, imbues Lewis with more gravity than the witty, wise-cracking professor-who reportedly kept his friends in stitches-probably warrants.

An American who has garnered surprising praise on both sides of the Atlantic for his Lewisian depiction is actor

Tom Key of Atlanta, Georgia.

Since 1983, Key has performed as the Oxbridge don over 200 times in his one-man drama, C.S. Lewis on Stage. According to Key, the most appropriate setting for the play (which was once performed at Washington, D.C.'s Kennedy Center), was at Oxford University's Sheldonian in 1998, a theater where Lewis attended countless graduation ceremonies during his long tenure at Oxford. Among those he considers his most appraising audience members, Key includes Douglas Gresham (Lewis's stepson), Owen Barfield, and George Sayer (Oxford "Inklings" colleagues), and Lewisian correspondent Sheldon Vanauken. His most memorable stage problem with the show occurred in Tennessee, where the farmer who was supposed to introduce him held up the opening curtain for 20 minutes because he was busy delivering a calf. Key's weirdest memory of C. S. Lewis on Stage featured a skullcap designed to hide his full, distinctly non-Lewisian head of hair. Under the hot stagelights at a San Diego performance in 1986, his headgear began popping and bubbling; Key extemporized a line about a war wound-which he still uses -but he discarded the sauteed toupee in subsequent productions.

In 1999 Key is moving beyond things Lewisian as producing artistic director of Atlanta's fastest-growing theater, Theatrical Outfit, Inc. After a decade of successes as a leading man in Atlanta, Key moves his act into one of Atlanta's premier downtown theater spaces this month. It is hoped that this venture will crown a career that started in 1981 with the award-winning script The Cottonpatch Gospel (reviewed in CT, Feb. 19, 1982). That uniquely southernized version of the Christian message earned Key the coveted Los Angeles Drama Critics' Circle Award in 1985 and two prestigious Dramalogue awards, making Key one of the most successful Christian stage actors in the United States.

For more information, call 404-577-5257, or e-mail tomkey@theatricaloutfit.com.

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