DECEMBER 2023 | Volume 234


Production image

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

Production image

Reflections on Crooked Walking. Sanders Whiting as Reverend Blinkers, Evelyn Chew as Gabby, Jennifer Lynch as Feathertoes, Tanner Zerr as Sufferton. Photo credit Emily Cooper.

Reflections on Crooked Walking
by Ann Mortifee
Firehall Arts Centre
Dec. 2-24
From $30 or 604-689-0926

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

adapted by Ron Reed from C.S. Lewis
Pacific Theatre, 1440 W. 12th Ave.
Nov. 23-Dec. 23

I saw Ann Mortifee’s Reflections on Crooked Walking at its Arts Club premiere in the early 1980s before I began reviewing theatre. Mortifee was a BC cultural icon, and the show proved very successful for the company. I recall strong performances by Jane Mortifee, Rick Scott, Moira Walley. Ron Reed’s two-person theatrical adaptation of C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe has appeared frequently at Pacific Theatre over the past 20 years. I reviewed it very positively in 2012. One of the actors in that production was Kaitlin Williams, now the company’s artistic director.

Both plays have been remounted for this holiday season, Reflections at the Firehall, directed by Donna Spencer; Lion, Witch at Pacific Theatre with Sarah Rodgers directing the same actors who starred in her 2018 Pacific production, Rebecca DeBoer and John Voth. Neither show is specifically about Christmas, although Christmas is mentioned in C.S. Lewis’ tale, which also has some implicitly Christian overtones. But both involve quests for spiritual authenticity and personal revitalization.

Mortifee’s musical is an extended theatrical metaphoror allegory. It begins with a competition between two characters—angels? demons? fates?—Opia (Meghan Gardiner), a witch all in black, and Doorman (Jesse Lipscombe), dressed in white, who attempts to foil Opia’s plots against humans by encouraging them to pass through various doors (“Every door is a magic door”) and offering clues to help them in their quest for answers to why the townsfolk have all surrendered to lethargy and passivity. The questers are curious, motormouthed Gabby (Evelyn Chew); Reverend Blinkers (Sanders Whiting), who believes that all answers are found in his Book; Feathertoes (Jennifer Lynch), a dancer for whom the world is simply beautiful; and her antithesis, downbeat Sufferton (Tanner Zerr), the audience favourite, who sees everything in the worst possible light. When they put together all the clues, they arrive at a series of mottos that are hard to argue with.

Because Reflections’ characters are abstractions, they don’t generate a lot of particular empathy or antipathy. The show’s effectiveness derives from Mortifee’s songs and music, with clever lyrics stronger than her text (“Whatchagonna do/When you don’t have a clue?”), the performers’ energies, and some effective design elements. Especially strong are Gardiner as Opia, appearing in a variety of striking costumes by Barbara Clayden, and Lynch’s Feathertoes with her upbeat balletic movement. Kudos also to Charlie Beaver’s set and puppet designer Stephanie Elgersma's giant spider.

In Reed’s adaptation of The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe, two of the kids from Lewis’ original story, Lucy and Peter, revisit, as adults, the house in which they first entered the wardrobe, their magic door into the land of Narnia with its talking faun, beavers and wolf, its evil White Witch, and Aslan, the noble lion king. The two actors, DeBoer and Voth, very skillfully play themselves as adults, themselves and their other two siblings as children, and all the characters in Narnia, half-narrating and half-enacting their adventures in that fantastical land. Under Rodgers’ precise direction they remain in continual motion, transforming themselves from one character to another with quick changes of voice, accent, body language and Sheila White’s easy-on-off costume pieces, while rearranging Lauchlin Johnston’s mobile set, including the wardrobe itself, around Pacific Theatre’s tiny stage to establish various locations.

After some confusing initial exposition, the adaptation and production bring Lewis’ classic tale to vivid life. While not explicitly searching for answers like the characters in Reflections, Peter and Lucy enthusiastically re-immerse themselves in their childhood world of imagination which seems so much more attractive and, in some ways,real than their stodgy adult environment.

Goodness, in both plays, triumphs as a result of characters rediscovering and practicing the values of courage, hope and determination.That’s the upbeat, creative message of both. Don’t settle for the easy way; don’t sleepwalk through your life. Find the magic and embrace it.



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Vancouver's arts and culture website providing theatre news, previews and reviews