"Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” is the Arts in Motion Youth Players most ambitious project to date, but ambitious doesn't mean better. Everyone involved deserves credit for taking on such a big project, but it is clear they bit off more than they could chew.
“The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” is the first book C.S. Lewis wrote in what would become a seven-book series chronicling the adventures in the magical land of Narnia. First published in 1950, it has gone on to become one of the most beloved children's books ever written with numerous adaptations on stage and screen.
The story centers on four children, two boys and two girls, who through a magical wardrobe find their way to Narnia, a world populated by talking animals and fantastic creatures. The children join forces with Aslan the lion, the former ruler of Narnia, to do battle with the evil White Witch who took over the land and covered it in a never-ending winter.
Arts in Motion's production, which continues this weekend at Loynd Auditorium at Kennett High School in North Conway, N.H., has the benefit of an excellent set designed by Marion Owen and Glenn Noble that does a nice job of creating the snow-covered world of Narnia. The centerpiece of the set is a platform and two ramps that are used for cast members to run up and then slide down. The costumes by Jackie Mercer, Kathy Ahearn and Valerie Smith and makeup by Mercer are also handled nicely.
There are two rotating casts for the five lead roles, so I can only comment on the rotation I saw. Of the cast I saw, Rebecca Lees, as Lucy, the youngest of the four children, and Hanna Paven, as Susan, fare the best.
Jake Dunham as the faun Mr. Tumnus is a standout, but unfortunately only has limited time on stage. Tumnus is the first Narnian Lucy meets, and her sweetness prevents the gentle Tumnus from turning her over to the witch.
Meagan Davis is also of note for playing Mrs. Beaver with a Sarah Palin-esque accent. It is an odd and inexplicable choice, but at least she made a choice with her line delivery. Most of the other actors' delivery is stilted and flat as if they were told the only requirement to being an actor is knowing your lines.
Are my expectations too high? They are just young actors after all, they shouldn't be held to the same standard as adult actors, right? To an extent this is true, but younger actors aren't by default bad, as evidenced by the good work done by the teen actors in M&D's “Dog Sees God.” Actors need direction, and under director Noble and assistant director Ged Owen it is unclear they got any beyond where to stand and when to say their lines.
There were also poor choices made in the staging of the show. A red and white strobe light and bass-heavy music is used during fight scenes. This is completely out of place with the look and tone of the show and is unintentionally funny rather than exciting. In addition, there are a couple dance numbers that are well choreographed by Rebecca Sciola, but that go on far too long and merely pad the running time.
The show couldn't even get basic stage direction right. A lamp post is the marker for the point of entry and exit into Narnia. It is placed on the left side of the stage and yet people would enter and exit Narnia on the opposite side of the stage. Would it have been so hard to design the set to have the lamp post on the proper side?
If you are a family member or a friend of one of the cast members, you will probably let things slide more than I did. Part of the fun of community-based theater is seeing people you know on stage, and sometimes it doesn't matter if they were good or bad as long as everyone has fun. I just didn't have much fun.
For more information visit www.artsinmotiontheater.com.