A Utah Theater Review by Kara Henry
The Castle Amphitheater was built into the side of a mountain in Provo, Utah in the Depression era as part of a public works campaign, but it feels more like the work of an eccentric millionaire. It was the perfect venue for The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, presented by the Zion Theatre Company, as it was built near the same time period as the time of the play, yet has the whispers of what could be Narnia in its stones and the trees and flowering bushes nearly growing on the stage. My husband and I both love this C.S. Lewis classic, so we were so excited for the show to begin.
The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe takes us to the magical world of Narnia, which Lucy Pevensie (Cassie Roberts), the young heroine of the play, discovers one day while playing in a large wardrobe. She soon convinces her brother, Edmund (Joel Mason) to follow, after meeting some of the creatures of Narnia. Edmund is tricked by the White Witch (Rebecca Minson) who rules Narnia as the false queen who has made it “always winter, but never Christmas.” Once the other two siblings, Susan (Ashley Stewart) and Peter (Joshua Mason), arrive, the children are determined to save Narnia by finding Aslan (James C. Jones), the powerful lion. However, Edmund has sided with the White Witch. I won’t give away anymore, but it’s a powerful story, with lots of magical creatures and talking animals to boot!
The Pevensie children did have to overcome some obvious nerves, but each had great moments. Cassie Roberts was so sweet as the kind and curious Lucy. David and I were both impressed by her accent. I enjoyed Ashley Stewart’s performance as the more serious Susan, and she particularly moved me in the last act of the play. Joshua Mason played the eldest brother with the seriousness it needed, and Joel Mason did a good job as the petulant Edmund.
Minson as Jadis, the White Witch, had the right mix of coldness, sharpness and cruelty. When she walked, she owned the stage. I very much enjoyed seeing this transformation from the last show I saw her in, Persuasion, where she played a sweet, calm character. Jones as the lion Aslan commanded the stage—using his rich voice with a hint of rasp to give depth to the character.
The supporting cast really helped lift this play up, which might have fallen a little flat without them. Their chemistry was very palpable onstage, and really brought me into the story. Two standouts were Mr. Beaver played by Brinton M. Wilkins, and the Dwarf played by Beca Acosta. They both breathed needed life and humor into all their scenes. The tree nymphs were also fun with their playful scolding of each other.
The script seemed like it was more of an obstacle to the actors than a guide, and often put them into awkward situations or gave them monologues that were more about exposition than any type of emotion or meaning. I think the actors did an admirable job of pushing through those moments as best they could, and took advantage of the better parts of the script to make the show entertaining.
The set was about as minimal as you can get, requiring some imagination from the viewer, and putting more pressure on the actors to carry the story. At times this caused for some slightly awkward transitions, but they did succeed in conveying the changes in location well enough to follow the plot. I was very impressed with the costumes by Ashley Bennett which were whimsical and minimal at the same time and completely fantastic all around. Perhaps because they were two of my favorite characters, I particularly loved the Dwarf’s furry boots and Mr. Beaver’s knit (actually, probably crocheted) skull cap.
The location is a little hard to find, and you have to ignore a couple of private property and no trespassing signs before you get there. Be sure to bring a blanket (it’s getting close to winter here as well as in Narnia) and something soft to sit on. The bathrooms facilities were immaculate and concessions are offered during intermission.
This is one of my favorite stories and this production does a good job of bringing it to life. I believe that my children would enjoy seeing this one—it has some amazing things to say about redemption, forgiveness and atonement (although be warned that there are some onstage deaths, although they aren’t done in a gory or too frightening way).