Review: ‘The Chronicles of Narnia’ by the Arts Collective at Howard Community College

If Narnia was one of your beloved childhood worlds, you have the opportunity to share it with your nearest and dearest without anyone having to actually (perish the thought!) read–but only for a limited time at Howard Community College in Columbia. The Chronicles Of Narnia is presented by the Arts Collective, now in its 24th season, a group comprised mainly of HCC students and graduates. In October, they presented Shakespearean Shenanigans at HCC’s Smith Theatre, and will do a Mystery Reading Series in HCC’s Recital Hall in January.

The cast of HCC Arts Collective's The Chronicles of Narnia. Top Row: Ifechukwu Alachebe, Christopher Grenchik, Tori Farnsworth, Vikas Malhotra, Elizabeth Feuerbach, Jared Max, Catherine Whitteker, Kaylob Simms, Tara Hart Bottom Row: Maia Krapcho, Abigail Pervaiz, Gina Ashton, Thomas Greenslit, Bella Horvath Emily Groves, Mallory Jordan, Gwen Lowell, Cameron Kelly, Jamie Barrios. Photo by Bruce F. Press Photography.
The cast of HCC Arts Collective’s The Chronicles of Narnia. Top Row: Ifechukwu Alachebe, Christopher Grenchik, Tori Farnsworth, Vikas Malhotra, Elizabeth Feuerbach, Jared Max, Catherine Whitteker, Kaylob Simms, Tara Hart.
Bottom Row: Maia Krapcho, Abigail Pervaiz, Gina Ashton, Thomas Greenslit, Bella Horvath Emily Groves, Mallory Jordan, Gwen Lowell, Cameron Kelly, Jamie Barrios. Photo by Bruce F. Press Photography.

The show is based on C. S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia, using two of the stories: The Magician’s Nephew, though the sixth of the series to be published, is the first chronologically set in the Narnia universe. Children’s author and playwright Aurand Harris adapted the story for the stage in the ‘80s as a full-length play, which he later condensed into a one-act show. This, which forms Act I of our evening, is directed by Daniel Johnston. The second piece presented is The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe, written by C.S. Lewis in 1950, adapted for the stage by Don Quinn in 1968, and directed by Cheryl J. Campo.

Seating is on two sides of the studio with most action in the center. There is some inventive staging, enhanced by the talents of Movement Coach Sarah Luckadoo, and the audience is particularly charmed by the sleigh of the White Witch in Act II. Though Act I is a bit bombastic, Act II is full of humor and energy.

The cast of nearly 20 is multi-generational and ethnically diverse. Many performers appear in both acts, and are stage crew as well. Though the lead characters of each story are children, most are portrayed by college or high school students, and a few actual children. One such, Cameron Kelly, who plays Polly in Act I, has a great stage presence and is joyously expressive, facially and physically. She’s an excellent foil for high school freshman Gwen Lowell’s Digory, who is earnest and adventurous. HCC Alum Abigail Pervaiz as the White Witch Queen Jadis is gleefully villainous in bearing and delivery, and looks fabulous. HCC student Ifechukwu Alachebe makes an excellent Aslan in Acts I and II, and is at once regal and warm in his bearing. Fellow HCC student Kaylob Simms as Mr. Tumnus provides comedy and exposition in equal parts. As Mr. Beaver, HCC Faculty member Tara Hart is the sturdy endearing center of Narnia in Act II.

A large cast in a compact space requires a pared-down set and only such props as required for action, which Set Designers S. G. Kramer and Andrew Haag Jr. manage with imaginative use of modular and mobile pieces. Costumer Jessica Welch conceives costuming which is evocative and fanciful, and easily changed on the fly. Lighting and Projections Designer Andrew Haag Jr. creates much of the environment and effects through smog-enhanced lighting, including magical disappearances, which, while not the sophisticated level of tech today’s youth is accustomed to, nevertheless works quite well, theatrically speaking. Sound Designer Chris Sisson creates an immersive auditory experience, with well-timed specialty sound effects, an excellent rounding out of settings which are visually sparse.

The children in the audience seem enraptured by the characters and action, and have the opportunity to meet their favorites in the lobby afterwards. There will be a post-show discussion after the final performance on Sunday at 2:00 pm which the audience is invited to attend. Many liberties are taken with the specifics of the original stories, but overall, the show provides warm fuzzies in a chilly setting. That’s the right thing for a holiday-season show to do.

Ifechukwu Alachebe (Aslan) in The Chronicles of Narnia. Photo by Bruce F. Press Photography.
Ifechukwu Alachebe (Aslan) in The Chronicles of Narnia. Photo by Bruce F. Press Photography.

Run Time: Two hours, including one 15-minute intermission.

The Chronicles Of Narnia, presented by the Arts Collective at Howard Community College, runs through December 9th only at Howard Community College’s Studio Theatre, 10901 Little Patuxent Parkway, Columbia, MD 21044. For tickets, call the box office at 443-518-1500 or go online.

Note: Parking is free in the structure across the road from HCC’s Studio Theatre in the Horowitz Center. Scope out the site in advance if you’re not familiar- my navigation function failed me at my first visit, and I spent several frustrated minutes before finding the building.