Previewed by Gail M. Burns, November 2003
Beginning this evening, Main Street Stage invites you to walk through the Wardrobe and into the magical land of Narnia. The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe a stage adaptation of C. S. Lewis’ 1950 children’s classic by Joseph Robinette, begins previews tonight at and opens on Saturday for a three-weekend run.
Claire Avitable, a recent graduate of Smith College, was hired to direct the show back in May. Avitable did a lot of research over the summer, and, after auditions in October, she and her cast of 14 have been rehearsing diligently. About half of the cast travels with Avitable from the five college area in the Connecticut River valley, and the other half are local performers. The cast represents a wide range of ages and levels of experience.
Avitable has been working with a dramaturg, Amanda Freeman, on the history and folklore of the story. “The Narnia books themselves transport the imagination to an entirely different world. When you’re reading The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe it comes to life in your brain and when you watch this play it will come to life right before you,” Avitable explained, “You can’t do narrative theatre and put the whole book on stage, but to I wanted to make sure C.S. Lewis’ intentions are there, and that the intentions of the adaptor are there.”
Oxford and Cambridge Don Clive Staples Lewis married late in life and had no children of his own. His first experience living with youngsters came when some London children were evacuated to the country house where he was staying during World War II. At this time Lewis began to make notes for the book that became The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. A thought-provoking moment occurred when a little girl who was staying with Lewis asked him what lay behind an old wardrobe he kept upstairs. That wardrobe is now housed at the Marion E. Wade Center at Wheaton College in Illinois, where a sign warns visitors: "Enter at your own risk. The Wade Center assumes no responsibility for persons who disappear or who are lost in this wardrobe."
After ten years gestation, this experience, coupled with his own childhood fantasies of a land peopled by noble animals and the image of a faun (a mythical creature half man and half goat) walking through the woods carrying some parcels and an umbrella, gave birth to The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. The first of the Narnia books to be published, devotees debate whether it or The Horse and His Boy(1954) is the proper introduction to Lewis’ fantasy world.
The audience will literally walk through the wardrobe when they enter the Main Street Stage. The early scenes when the four Pevensie children – Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy – are in England will take place off-stage, with only the actors’ disembodied voices being heard. Then as they too walk through the wardrobe into Narnia they will enter the playing space and be visible to the audience as their adventures begin.
Smith College student Sarah Barz has designed an eclectic collection of costumes with designs ranging from the traditional to the outlandish. Barz also plays the elder Pevensie girl, Susan.
Avitable received the Samuel A. Eliot/Julia Heflin Award for Distinguished Directing from the Smith Theatre Department, and the Yvonne Sarah Bernhardt Buerger Award for her direction of When I Was a Girl I Used to Scream and Shout by Sharman Macdonald. She is currently living in Hadley, and working as the production coordinator for Foodplay, an award winning health and nutrition theatre company that produces touring theatre shows for elementary and middle schools.
Joseph Robinette is the author of more than 30 published plays and musicals, including the musical version of Charlotte's Web adapted from the novel by E.B. White, which is currently on the boards up the road in Dorset, Vermont. The recipient of numerous playwriting awards, Robinette was presented the 1976 Charlotte Chorpenning Cup, given annually by the Children's Theatre Association of America to "an outstanding writer of children's plays who has achieved national recognition." He currently resides in New Jersey where he is professor of theatre at Rowan University.
The Main Street Stage production of “The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe” will be performed at 8 p.m. December 4-6, 12 & 13, and 18-20; and at 2 p.m. on December 7 & 14. Tickets are $7 for the December 4 & 5 previews, and $12 adults, $8 children & students all other performances, except for the December 18 Pay-What-You-Can Community Night. The Main Street Stage is located at 57 Main Street in North Adams. Call the box office at 413-663-3240 for tickets and information.
copyright Gail M. Burns, 2003