In tune with the magic of the holiday season, Adventure Theatre (AT) is welcoming audiences into the fantasy world of Narnia. “The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe,” the first volume of C.S. Lewis’ “The Chronicles of Narnia,” will be onstage from Dec. 2 to 31 in Glen Echo Park.
Director Tom Story said “The Lion” was one of the first books he fell in love with as a child. “I was a big reader before I found theater,” he said. “I just always loved the idea of this portal to another place. I think that really drew me to this story–that these children go through this wardrobe and enter this magical land with epic characters and battles and creatures, witches, and lions, and ogres, and fauns.”
While Lewis’ story has multiple characters, this production features only two actors, Audrey Bertaux and Chris Dinolfo, who take on multiple roles, putting the focus on imaginative theater. The challenge excites Story because he is drawn to fantasy in literature and the ability of theater to transform a room into something you might not have imagined possible. “(The actors) are doing a fabulous job,” he said. “I was lucky I got people who are really talented and fun, and can transform into different people.”
Bertaux, a newcomer to AT whose roles include Lucy, the Witch and Wolf, has been a Narnia fan for as long as she can remember. “Actually getting to go into the Narnia wardrobe and come out in Narnia as Lucy is basically a dream come true for a little girl that spent a lot of time playing in wardrobes pretending that I was Lucy,” she said. “That is just a joy as an actor–to get to revisit that childhood world. It’s such a beautiful story about family and magic, and good and evil.”
The Ohio native fell in love with theater at about age 7 when her mother took her to a production of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” that had on-stage seating. “I just have such vivid memories of the actors talking directly to the audience and remembering how thrilling that was–that I was a part of the play,” she said. “It’s still very vivid in my mind.”
The back cover of the playbill had an advertisement for Shakespeare camp, and Bertaux begged her mom to let her go. “She sent me to Shakespeare camp and I basically never came back,” she said.
As a child, Dinolfo said he couldn’t do sports, but had a vivid imagination. His mother enrolled him in a theater camp, where he played the caterpillar in a performance of “Alice in Wonderland.” “I thought ‘Maybe I could be good at this’.”
His Narnia roles include Peter, Edmund, Mr. Tumnus and Aslan. He has done two plays in the past at AT–‘Stuart Little’ and ‘Tiny Tim’s Christmas Carol.’ During each of those productions, he played the title role while others had multiple parts. ‘Narnia’ offers him the opportunity to show his ability to take on several roles.
Bertaux said the different roles are very challenging, but Story has worked with both to create distinct physical and vocal choices for each character. “Not only does that help it become much clearer to the audience but then when you make those choices then it becomes like something that you remember and it just clicks in your brain” for each character, she said.
Story, Bertaux, Dinolfo have been working with Movement Director Elena Day to find creative and different ways to tell the story. “I’m just lucky that the four of us have a similar imagination and want to tell the story in a similar way. and it’s been a real collaboration between all of us,” Story said.
Despite the reality that there are just two actors, the production asks the audience to believe that more are on stage. “We are trying to show flashes of each character before we do things just to remind people that there are actually four siblings,” Dinolfo said. “That’s actually become my favorite part of the play.”
A professional magician was consulted to help incorporate magic tricks into the show, and scenic designs add to the fantasy and transformative moments.
Recommended for all ages, the production runs about 45 minutes. “It’s a great holiday show in many ways, for all denominations,” Story said. “It’s a story of hope, love, childhood and friendship. To me, it represents the spirit of children’s imaginations and what they are capable of creating. …It has a hopeful message and I think in our world, that is an important thing to put out there, and I am happy to be putting that into the world.”
Adventure Theatre presents “The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe,” from Dec. 2 to 31, in Glen Echo Park, 7300 MacArthur Blvd. For tickets, $19.50, call 301-634-2270 or visit https://my.adventuretheatre-mtc.org.