By Jody Tuso-Key – Managing Editor
Like many live theater patrons in the ATL, I always look forward to going to Serenbe Playhouse. Even when I’m given a press release and fotoflashes to send out through our media desk that describes the next Serenbe production, I can never fully imagine or comprehend how they are going to top the previous one. All I can say about NARNIA is, “Serenbe, you’ve done it again!” Actually I can, and will say more!
Serenbe Playhouse is unique in the ATL. Forget everything you know about going to the theater and I’ll provide my helpful tips. NARNIA is a walking experience with limited seating, but you won’t need to bring a sports chair (we did and never used them–they just became an unnecessary burden). It’s a play in one act, and is about 1 1/2 hours long. If you need mobility assistance and disability seating, they will accommodate you. Just let the parking lot attendant know upon arrival. There are also a few benches available during the 2nd half of the show. In addition, don’t dress “for the theater”; instead, dress for camping. Wear comfortable clothing and shoes that are good for navigating uneven terrain. My good friend, Pat DeRoeck used her phone flashlight when walking from one set to another. We’re both seniors with fun things like arthritis and prone to tripping, so that was an awesome idea! While it feels like spring or early summer right now in the ATL (We turned on our air conditioning yesterday!), it is winter. Check the weather forecast before you go and dress accordingly. The air last Friday was crisp and chilly, about 50 degrees. I wore fleece leggings from REI and my #TeamMonica hoodie. Even though I forgot my down jacket. I was still comfortable. Wear a warm coat and bring a hat that covers your ears, gloves, hand warmers, and even a blanket to wrap up in if you wish–I recommend The Original Burrito Blanket because it’s warm and fun and well, burritos! I also brought my vintage Ulitmate Torsopack to hold my water, hot chocolate, and gloves. One final thing I’d like to comment on to patrons is, if you’re a tall person, please use some theater etiquette and be mindful to let shorter folks, especially children stand in front of you. I’m somewhat vertically challenged, and there were a few times where we had difficulty seeing for this reason.
We were all set and ready to enjoy the show, and what a show it was!! NARNIA is based on the first book in the series, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. It’s set in WWII and is the story of 4 children sent from bomber ravaged London to the English countryside to live with their uncle in his huge, rambling house. The youngest of the four siblings, Lucy stumbles upon a wardrobe playing hide and seek, and inside is a whole new world where it’s always cold and the White Witch reigns supreme. All four children are eventually swept away into this land of Narnia, where they work to overthrow the White Witch and restore order to Narnia.
Director Joel Coady had his work cut out for him on this production. Because he wasn’t limited to the confines of a stage, he was able to let his imagination go wild. The show concept was brilliant, and his team assembled a technically excellent show.
Serenbe is already well known for their stunning, award winning set design and NARNIA is no exception. The scenery is a sight to behold. There are several different scenes, and the performers are great at leading the audience from one scene to another. Probably the most impressive part was the opening of the wardrobe. We were taken through a barn complete with coats hanging from the ceiling and then back outside the other end of the barn where we were greeted with snow falling and lights shimmering from the trees. The White Witch’s garden was also impressive, as were all the sets designed by Estefania Perez Vera. There was a cirque hoop, a train station, Professor Kirk’s house, entering the wardrobe, the entrance to Narnia, Mr. Tumnus’s house, the White Witch’s garden, Aslan’s rock, and the battlefield.
The costumes were designed by my friend, Cole Spivia. The children’s clothing was authentic to the era and setting of World War II Europe. They were enhanced by expertlighting designed by Alice Trent. Caleb Siler had a daunting task desigining sound for this show and did a great job. Finally I don’t normally mention stage managers, and they are the glue that holds together the entire production for every performance.
I’m giving big KEY KUDOS to stage manager Erin Teaster. The theater tech geek in me was wondering how the show was called with so many venues. It wasn’t until the very end that I spotted her She had been following us the entire time with a tablet, calling every cue. The word “GO” in theater tech signifies to the lighting and sound designers to execute the next cue, and I didn’t hear Erin’s “GO” until the very end once I knew where she was. Pat had no idea and didn’t hear her at all! Not only was she unobtrusive, every cue was spot on and expertly executed.
A final KEY KUDOS goes to Director/Fight Coreographer Jake Guinn. The fight scenes were imaginative and well done, but the fact that they were literally fighting with fire was astounding!! Seeing them swinging flaming torches at each other?? The mother in me held my breath at the danger, but it was clear these scenes had been well thought out and meticulously rehearsed.
Then there’s the performers–I spoke to many of them after the show. This cast of 8 is phenomenal. Not a single equity actor graces this performance, and it’s fitting. In fact, every one of them is part of the Serenbe apprentice company with the exception of Rebekah Larsh (Susan), and Eleanor Rocha (Lucy). This is the story of children, and the young performers bring that story to life in a way that more seasoned actors couldn’t. Performers include Zuri Petteway as the formidable White Witch (her command of the stage is awe inspiring), Micah Paterson as the amiable Tumnus (as friendly off stage as he is on stage), Magan O’Dell as the graceful White Stag/Ryweth (what a beautiful singing voice!) and Bendetto Robinson as Psoferssor/Alsan (what a great choice to have him play both roles).
The four Pevensie children were diversely cast, which I love. Brandon Smith (Edmind) greeted me at the gate as the ticket taker and was friendly and amiable. He captured the essence of a boy who felt second best in the family very well. Barry Westmoreland as the eldest brother, Peter, portrayed the “man of the house” while Dad was off to war as many children did in WWII. Rebekah Larsh captured the essence of Susan while all the while nursing an injury to her ankle. I didn’t notice her limping, but Pat did. Pat spoke to her afterward and commended her for her brave performance. Last but not least Elanor Rocha as Lucy was cute as a button! She’s a Serenbe resident who has been on stage since age 6, and her years on stage are a credit to her craft.
My assessment of this show is it is a Speakeysie MUST SEE!! There’s still time to get tickets, but hurry. This show ends January 12th. Tickets are available at http://www.serenbeplayhouse.com/narnia.
Thanks for reading our last review of the tween and teens decade. I’ve enjoyed serving you the last two years and can wait to see what the Neuvo Roaring 20s brings.
As always, peace be with you!!