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Shadowlands British writer and intellectual C.S. Lewis, a confirmed bachelor, finds that love can come late in life, as he befriends, falls in love with and marries the American poet Joy Gresham. Male-centric Oxford in 1956 is dominated by Lewis with the strength of his personality, his intellectual vigor and his charm, captured by Steven Fenley in a commanding portrayal that grabs us by the throat and never lets go. Beth Lazarou portrays Gresham, with whom Lewis has corresponded but not met, and her intrusion in person into Lewis's life challenges the smug camaraderie of the group. Playwright William Nicholson is less skilled in drawing her — two separate confrontations, intended to show her intellectual gifts, come across instead as rude and argumentative. While we are convinced of Lewis's love for her, we don't see her love for Lewis — if, indeed, that exists, for it's possible to view this as one-sided, with Joy an opportunist gulling an emotionally starved academic. Lazarou, though polished and attractive, doesn't provide the warmth and charisma to bring Joy to life. Lewis's struggle to reconcile God with the evils of the world is here merely theology-lite, but neither of these flaws interferes with the rich, engaging satisfaction of this production. The handsome set by Trey Otis permits smooth transitions, the costumes by Macy Perrone are authentically shabby, the lighting design by Daniel Polk is subtle and appealing, and Rachel Mattox directs with the eye of a professional. A compelling, nuanced performance by Fenley, a gifted cast and an impressive production overcome minor script flaws to create enthralling theater with emotional power, making this pleasurable and important — a must-see event. Through February 19. Texas Repertory Theatre, 14243 Stuebner Airline Rd., 281-583-7573. — JJT

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