CHILDREN'S THEATER REVIEW : Lewis' Flight of Fancy Is Unmagically Grounded

Anyone who loves the Narnia Chronicles of C.S. Lewis may be pleased to find a staged version of "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" playing in so charming a theater as La Habra's Depot Playhouse.

Guiding us into Lewis' deep, magical forest of imagery and allegory are 27 children large and small, but mostly small, picturesquely costumed by Ambra Wakefield in wonderful make-up by Tim Turner.

The journey is an ambitious undertaking.

But the production design by Bob Schaffer is decidedly unmagical and threatens to grind the whole flight of fancy into so much drudgery.

The story has been telescoped into a dizzying progression of short scenes (13 in the first act alone, which ran under 45 minutes), each, it seems, in a different locale. The turntable set is forever going round and round while shadowy (and mostly small) figures lug large and heavy stage pieces on and off.

Also troublesome are some choices by director Geoffrey Gread that condescend to children's theater. Why are the actors pretending to eat large plastic fruit, including a gourd? Why is the majestic Aslan the lion introduced through a side door and forced to shimmy around a table before he can plant his big, furry feet? Tim Turner, as Aslan, never has a chance after that entrance to live up to his dangerous reputation.

The children's parts are handled by two casts who alternate performances. Of the company that played Sunday, Carrie Payne, as the White Witch, manages to be both dangerous and regal, and John Leary's Edmund is exceptionally believable. Curtis Wilkinson and Andrea Bodell are a very engaging couple of beavers.

An acquaintance with Lewis' book is helpful both to follow the action and to provide the deep magic of imagination so necessary for entrance into enchanted lands.

'THE LION, THE WITCH

AND THE WARDROBE'

A La Habra Depot Playhouse of C.S Lewis' children's fantasy. Directed by Geoffrey Gread. With Dennis Montgomery, Justin Dufour, Mike Geurin, Elizabeth Ridenour, Heather Sexton, John Leary, Adam Milano, Cassie Thompson, Carrie Del Muro, Carrie Payne, Wendy Jung, Curtis Wilkenson, Graham McCulloch, Andrea Bodell, Michelle Scott, Tim Turner. Set by Bob Schaffer. Lighting by Matt Stroul. Make-up by Tim Turner. Costuming by Ambra Wakefield. Music composed by Barbara Aron.

Performances Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 at Depot Playhouse, 311 S. Euclid St., La Habra. Through Aug. 12. Tickets $4.50 to $6. Information: (213) 905-9708.

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