The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

In this battle for Narnia, Aslan is taken down by a lack of vision and weak direction

Arts Review

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

City Theatre, through Sept. 13

Running time: 1 hr, 30 min

City Theatre Company's production of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe falls into the category of "theatre for young audiences," a genre that at its best captures the adult imagination,

too. The cast includes several child and youth actors who are inexperienced, though they try mightily. The core problems with the production, though, lie not with the performances but with D. Heath Thompson's original adaptation of the novel by C.S. Lewis and the direction by Bridget Farias.

The script suffers from the Counselor Troi effect, which happens when someone has a line that's completely unnecessary given the dramatic action, à la "Captain, I sense great suffering on the part of the beings on that exploding ship." Here, we have the following:

Minor character (pointing): Look, he's carrying the white flag of peace!

(Dwarf enters carrying the white flag of peace.)

Aslan: Do you come in peace?

Beyond such statements of the obvious, the script also lacks something much more crucial: any sort of take on the original work. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is famous as a Christian allegory, and the religious aspect isn't prominent here – but neither is anything else. Is it a tale of childhood imagination? Is it a story about trust and redemption? If you don't want to push Aslan's identity as a Jesus stand-in, fine, but what else does he bring to this story? What do the children learn during their adventure?

Guidance of the cast is so poor that at the performance I saw, one kid cracked his knuckles and rolled his neck onstage. Often, so many people were talking at once that you couldn't make out what was happening, apart from half a dozen people in costume moving around on a shabbily dressed stage.

The chorus of woodland creatures highlights the deepest problems with the staging. The concept makes sense: They represent the forest and the fickle power of nature, supporting first one side in the great battle, then the other. They emit a constant, rustling movement, like swaying trees and hidden animals. Yet, stillness and silence are two of the most valuable tools available to the director, and they are used rarely if ever in this production. As actors downstage deliver important lines, the chorus pulls focus, groaning and whispering with an occasional wavy-armed pas de bourrée.

A few notes of praise: As the fawn Mr. Tumnus, Austin Rausch makes strong and specific physical choices for his character. Plus, the green eyes will freak you out. Also, Fiona Rene (Mrs. Beaver) figures out best of anyone in the cast how to make her character both animal and human, by investing herself in both the comedy and the sincerity of the part. While some of the costumes (designed by Stacy Davis) look cheap – the titular witch looks like she has pipe cleaners coming out of her head over a white crushed-velvet number – others, such as the outfits for Mr. Tumnus and Aslan, bring out an imaginative storybook feel. The makeup, typically overlooked in low-budget theatre productions, is designed and executed skillfully for each of the Narnians.

Despite these few bright points, however, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe ultimately suffers from its weak direction and lack of vision.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 36 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Arts Reviews
"Post-Apocalyptic Harvest" at Atelier 1205
Artists Erika Huddleston, Tammy West, and Amy Scofield salvage beauty from a sundered world

Wayne Alan Brenner, Jan. 11, 2019

Who You Run With
Zach Theatre's Tortoise and Hare
This delightful, inspiring musical teaches us there's more to the story than the amazing race

Robert Faires, Jan. 4, 2019

More by Elizabeth Cobbe
Street Corner Arts' <i>We Are Proud to Present ...</i>
Street Corner Arts' We Are Proud to Present ...
This production is more than exceptional theatre; it asks thought-provoking questions about authority, perspective, and intention

Dec. 7, 2018

Capital T Theatre's <i>The Hunchback Variations</i> and <i>...Faustus</i>
Capital T Theatre's The Hunchback Variations and ...Faustus
The company's pairing of two Mickle Maher one-acts gets lit about art in a sublime way

Nov. 16, 2018


The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis, City Theatre Company, Bridget Farias, D. Heath Thompson, Austin Rausch, Fiona Rene, Stacy Davis

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Updates for SXSW 2019

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle