Flint Youth Theatre Journeys Through C.S. Lewis’s ‘Wardrobe’
FLINT, Mich.–The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is a story of journeys—journeys of the feet, of the heart and of the soul.
So when the Flint Youth Theatre decided to stage Joseph Robinette’s adaptation of the classic C.S. Lewis story, they chose to have the audience join them on the journey in a very literal way.
Directed by Michael Lluberes, The Lion, the Witch and The Wardrobe is the children’s tale in which four English children pass through a wardrobe into a magical land called Narnia where it is always winter, but never Christmas because the land is under the curse of a White Witch who lays claim to the title of queen.
There is no pre-seating with this show. The audience waits in the lobby until it is time for the show to begin, at which point they are herded into a room where there is a large wardrobe. Some actors surround them, the play beginning as the audience stands in the room. The audience then follows Lucy into the wardrobe, through its hanging coats into a snowy land, the first of many rooms where they will see scenes of the show play out.
While moving from room to room adds an immersive layer to the experience—and one that kept the younger members of the audience very excited and pleased, it was compromised slightly because the theater sold too many tickets on opening night and there were not enough seats for the audience members and they were crowded onto the steps, standing in the back and sitting on the stage itself. In rooms where everyone stood, audiences were cooperative about making sure the younger members got to move to the front so they could see.
Lluberes made sure there was plenty of magic in this show, as the story demands. Ray Zupp’s scenic design provided a land of snow at the lamp post where the children enter Narnia, a cozy warmth for the beaver’s house, a stark stoniness for the Witch’s castle and a wide, open space for the stone table and the scene of the battles. As they were each in different rooms, Zupp was able to build them with a permanence and high degree of detail since they didn’t have to be cleared between scenes.
Adam M. Dill created several fantastical costumes, especially for equine creatures and the talking animals of Narnia. The White Witch’s costume added to her impressiveness. Aslan’s costume presented a challenge, and Dill constructed a lion that was consistent with the other animals but also added a gravitas and size to him. It was a costume that was able to come apart in service to the story.
Special effects aside, “The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe” is a personal story, a story about the individuals in it. It is the story of four children, starting with Lucy, played by Edith Pendell, who first discovers Narnia. She is sweet and earnest, the embodiment of goodness.
Britton A. Paige has one of the more challenging tasks of the four children as Edmund. He must be somewhat spoiled and petulant. He is the traitor and causes much of the play’s sorrow. But at the same time, he must be worthy of rescue and true in his repentance. Paige does this job very well. He covers a wide range of emotions, expressing well each one of them and capturing the physicality of the role.
Destiny Dunn is Susan and Enrique Vargas is Peter, the two older siblings, both of whom have to take on responsibilities once they enter this strange land. They perform their roles competently, adequately displaying young people who must grow into royal roles.
But the two actors who dominate the stage are the ancient adversaries, the ones who determine the fate of the land—the White Witch and Aslan, the King. Filling these roles are veteran actors Janet Haley and Rico Bruce Wade.
Haley has the dignity and strength needed for the White Witch. She is powerful and genuinely frightening. She in truly convincing that she is in complete command and that it will be nearly impossible to defeat her. Lluberes gave her a dramatic entrance that set the stage for future entrances. Haley makes sure the stakes are high and gives each confrontation taut emotion.
Wade brings a gravitas to the role of Aslan (and a hearty joy and authority to the earlier role of Father Christmas). He has a gentle authority that invokes the loving command of the Christ for which C.S. Lewis created him as a metaphor for. He moves and speaks with purpose and takes in everyone with all-encompassing expressions.
When Wade and Haley face off, it is a conflict of great proportions and the actors infuse their characters with all the power that the parts demand.
The Flint Youth Theater has taken a familiar classic and presented it in a creative and interactive way that involves the audience, immersing them in the story in a very physical manner. Even if you’ve seen the story before, you probably haven’t experienced it in this manner. It’s one that is especially effective for the younger crowd, making it a holiday experience that is certain to create memories for the whole family.