By David Simpich
I first discovered the story The Pilgrim’s Progress in 1997 while researching the life of Abraham Lincoln for a potential marionette play. The book had been a cornerstone work of literature for Lincoln as a young man; and I became intrigued to read the book as part of my research. I was immediately so taken by Bunyan’s imaginative perspective, the characters and focus that I set about almost overnight to develop a marionette play of the story (Lincoln was put on hold for the time being, but appeared two years later in a play called Portraits). Our production of The Pilgrim’s Progress premiered here in Colorado Springs in April of 1998, and my family and I then had the privilege of touring the show throughout many parts of the United States for several years.
I have to say that one of my initial concerns in presenting Bunyan’s epic story as a marionette play was that I knew my adaptation could in no way offer the intricate development, dialogue and details included in his original text. I hoped instead to offer audiences a sort of introduction to the story that might inspire them to further investigate Bunyan’s writings. However, in presenting the play, I began to discover from discussions with audience members that many were embracing something similar to my initial heartfelt response to the book. For, although the narrative has a singularly powerful and driving focus (Christian’s journey to the Celestial City), it is also made up of isolated occurrences or episodes along the way that prove so vivid and impacting that one can hold them up as mirrors to some of life’s most compelling struggles. Someone would say, “I have been in Giant Despair’s castle before,” or “I’ve been walking between lions, lately.” Shopping at “Vanity Fair,” battling Apollyon in the Valley of Humiliation, struggling through the Dark Valley, standing at the edge of the River of Death, observing the smoother trail of Bypass Meadow; all these incidents have the uncanny ability to offer a clarifying illustration to very real problems… as they offer a profound solution.
This, I believe, is the true brilliance of The Pilgrim’s Progress: It is a tapestry of “moments”, colorfully and brilliantly rendered, that come together and ask us to remain singularly focused upon one abiding Light… and Person. Through the years as I have returned to this play in performance, I have been very impressed at how certain episodes will have new meaning and depth for me personally because of my current “place” along the journey. Christian, in his weakness, his doubts; and especially in the firmness and faithfulness of the One he seeks, has become a sort of compass… and friend… to whom I am deeply indebted.