Encore Stage & Studio presents C.S. Lewis’ famed tale The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, dramatized by Joseph Robinette and directed by Amy Thompson. This allegorical tale of faith and courage has been delivered over the years through countless mediums, and has been seen through nearly every creative lens. Artistic Director Susan Alison Keady leads a large cast of budding actors for this enthusiastic production.
Technical Director and Set Designer Kristen Jepperson begins with an intricately designed wardrobe placed in front of the drawn stage curtains. When the curtains are drawn, the land of Narnia is revealed; a wintry world with snow gently falling amongst the bare trees (which go through a clever and colorful transformation later on). The snowfall is done both literally and with a lighting effect, and the result is impressive. The image of a distant castle between two hills is projected onto the backdrop, and large snowflakes are suspended from the ceiling. Larger prop pieces are wheeled on and offstage throughout the production, including a cozy cottage and elaborate carriage. In addition to the falling snow, Lighting Designer Gary Hauptman works with Sound Designer and Composer Matthew Heap to create varying effects, including a thunderstorm and a fireworks display. The one quibble I have with the technical aspects of the show is that at my performance, the sound effects ended sharply and abruptly instead of fading out, causing some awkward giggles from the audience. The overall atmosphere is varied and detailed, and gives the young cast a lot draw inspiration from.
While exploring an old house, siblings Peter (Richard Bew), Susan (Lauren Monsivaiz), Edmund (Thomas Schindler) and Lucy (Isabel Tate) come across a grand, old wardrobe. While the others brush it off and keep exploring, Lucy is intrigued, and discovers that the wardrobe is, in fact, a gateway to Narnia, a magical realm held under an icy siege by the evil White Witch (Sophia Kingsley). Narnia is filled with mystical creatures; some good, some bad. Costume Designer Debra Leonard uses full-body fur suits and face paint for the forest animals, as well as tattered rags and scraggly beards for ghouls and dwarves. Lucy meets Mr. Tumnus (Laura Wade), a faun who is obligated to deliver any humans who wander into Narnia to the White Witch. When Mr. Tumnus takes pity on the sweet Lucy and frees her, he is branded as a traitor and turned to stone, alongside every other creature who goes against the White Witch.
Meanwhile, Edmund has followed his sister through the wardrobe, and finds the misfortune of meeting the White Witch herself, who charms him with promises of power and sweets. Terrified of a prophecy of her undoing which involves four siblings and the majestic lion (and true Narnia ruler) Alsan (a commanding Sean Hackles), the White Witch convinces Edmund to gather his siblings and bring them to her castle before the prophecy can be set into motion. With all four siblings now in Narnia, they are intercepted by Mr. and Mrs. Beaver (Sam Barrett and Sarah Fahrenkrug), who inform them of the prophecy and their pivotal roles in it. Aslan’s arrival is imminent, shown as the frozen landscape begins to thaw and thrive. The children find themselves at the forefront of a war, unaware of Edmund’s shaky alliance. Will Aslan and the children be able to save not only Narnia itself, but their misguided brother?
While there is an abundance of raw talent brewing in this ensemble (Richard Bew’s performance as Peter in particular is fantastic), it is clear that they are guided by effective direction. The actors who have animal roles are careful to move as their character would; a Centaur (Maggie Keane) lumbers heavily, the wolf Fenris Ulf (another standout performance by Jessica Dallessandro) takes the stage in leaps and bounds, and a Unicorn (Malena Davis) stands with grace and poise. They also project their voices into the audience so that a single work cannot be missed (Isabel Tate is especially effective with this exercise as Lucy). I’ve seen a lot of shows with casts made entirely of children and young adults, and this production is particularly solid.
As someone who highly encourages children to watch and be inspired by their fellow peers onstage, I’m thrilled to find such an impressive young cast who work so well together. Encore Stage and Studio’s production of The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe is a solid bet for an evening of family entertainment.
Running Time: Approximately one hour and twenty minutes, including one 15-minute intermission.
The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe plays through November 17, 2013 at Encore Stage & Studio. Performances held at The Thomas Jefferson Community Theatre — 125 South Old Glebe Road , Arlington, VA. For tickets, call (703) 548-1154 or purchase them online.