The Austin Chronicle

Arts Review

Reviewed by Elizabeth Cobbe, September 4, 2009, Arts

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.

Copyright © 2024 Austin Chronicle Corporation. All rights reserved.