Although Shadowlands glosses over some of the problematic implications of Lewis’s marriage, it nonetheless presents marriage as something holy, sacred, and desirable—something that can’t be attained through the mere sanction of the state. “Marriage isn’t just a legal contract,” Lewis instructs Joy. A civil marriage, the play tells us, is not enough; to be married “properly,” a couple must be wed “before God.” For this treatment of holy matrimony, Shadowlands is to be commended—as it is for its celebration of old-fashioned romance. Joy and Lewis’s attraction for each other is not based on sex alone, but on genuine friendship, good conversation, and intellectual compatibility. Their relationship is not the shallow fling of young lovers (Lewis and Joy are middle-aged when they meet, Lewis in his fifties and Joy nearing forty), but something deeper. Shadowlands offers a lovely picture of romance as it ought to be: love and trust between friends that develops into a genuine longing for union.
Today, when hookup culture has nearly destroyed romantic relationships, and the gravity of divorce is so often dismissed, Shadowlands at least requires us to ask questions about the goodness of marriage and the consequences of sundering it. If you are in Manhattan anytime between now and January 7, it is well worth journeying to Theater Row to ponder them yourself.