THE BASICS: THE MAGICIAN’S NEPHEW by C.S. Lewis adapted for the stage by Michael O’Brien and directed by Tim Carroll at the Shaw’s Festival Theatre (the big one) in Niagara-on-the-Lake Ontario, runs through October 13, some matinees, a few evenings, and six (6) weekend shows left. 1-800-511-SHAW www.shawfest.com Travel time from Buffalo? To allow for bridge traffic, parking, etc. I’d recommend at least two hours. And if you get there early, stroll up and down Queen Street or go to the park and look at Lake Ontario, or make it a real educational day and visit Fort George as well. Good for ages 6+, THE MAGICIAN’S NEPHEW runs 2 hours and 10 minutes with one intermission.
THUMBNAIL SKETCH: Another labor of love by Artistic Director Carroll, THE MAGICIAN’S NEPHEW is the “prequel” if you will to the Narnia series and is a good place to start.
The story: One summer in London two children at play, Digory and Polly, stumble upon Digory’s mysterious Uncle Andrew (in a study with an orrery) who tricks Polly into touching a yellow ring. Poof! She vanishes. Uncle Andrew explains to Digory that yellow rings carry people to other worlds, and green rings bring people back. Ever the young gentleman, Digory touches another yellow ring (after first pocketing two green ones) in order to boldly go and then bring Polly home. The kids find themselves first in a wood with ponds and then in a castle where they encounter Jadis who follows the children back to London and begins her evil plot to conquer the world, starting with London, of course. We know that she is evil and has world domination as her goal because, just as every Bond villain does, she is compelled to explain her motivation to us, in exquisite detail.
Polly and Digory use the yellow rings to take Jadis back to the wood, but accidentally (and hilariously) bring along a cab-driver, his cab horse, and Uncle Andrew as well into a world – Narnia! – just now being formed by Aslan the lion. To protect the fragile Narnia from Jadis, Aslan tells Digory that he must travel on a winged horse to a far-away garden to pluck an apple, from which Aslan will grow a protective tree. Jadis encourages the boy to either eat an apple and become immortal or to steal an apple and bring it home to cure his dying mother. Though tempted, Digory resists both temptations. He returns to Aslan and plants the apple to grow the tree to protect Narnia. [Whew!] But what about mom? Aslan gives Digory an apple from the new [and everlasting] tree to take home and cure his mother. That Aslan.
THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: The Shaw puts a lot of thought into these performances and this show is a delightful swirl as the actors themselves twirl and jump and move around a variety of what are, at the end of the day, cardboard boxes, but at the Shaw plain cardboard becomes anything they want: walls and trees and castles, you name it. And they have very creative masks made out of paper. It’s all pretty cool. And, the performers, many younger, are a joy to watch as they create the magic.
But the main reason to go, for me, is to see favorite Shaw actor Michael Therriault in action as the Cabbie. Think of Therriault as the Shaw version of Broadway’s Michael Jeter (“Mr. Noodle” on Sesame Street) with his insane energy and rubber body. NOTE: Therriault is also currently in GRAND HOTEL as Otto Kringelein, the role, by the way, that won Michael Jeter a Tony. And he will be Scrooge, once again, in the Shaw’s magical A CHRISTMAS CAROL which opens in November.
Just as with the STAR WARS movies, when it comes to reading the Narnia tales by C.S. Lewis there are opinions as the proper order. The question is: should you read them in the order as published (where you would start with THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE which The Shaw Festival produced in 2016) or should you read them in chronological order (where you would start with THE MAGICIAN’S NEPHEW on stage this year). The author himself, C.S. Lewis, favored the starting with NEPHEW, or what some call “the prequel” in the proper Chronological Order: The Magician’s Nephew, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, The Horse and His Boy (which The Shaw Festival is putting on next season, 2019), Prince Caspian, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, The Silver Chair, and then book seven, The Last Battle.
So this is how Narnia all began, and that is why, if you haven’t yet, you really should get your kids and grand-kids up to the Shaw. If you don’t want them to miss a school day, there are six (6) weekend shows left before it closes on October 13. Or, if they can stay up late, there are a few evening shows. And, hell, this is educational! Go up to Niagara on the Lake, and enjoy one of their mid-week matinees, which should be fun and full of young Canadian students bused in for the shows.
NOTE FOR THOSE CARING FOR CHILDREN WITH SPECIAL NEEDS: New in 2018 The Shaw is introducing what it’s calling a “relaxed performance” where sudden changes and loud noises are muted. There are still seats available for that performance on Thursday October 4 at 2 pm when, as they say on their website, they “will welcome all patrons who want to experience great theatre – including those with intellectual or learning disabilities, sensory processing conditions or autism – by offering a more casual and relaxed environment. The production will have a relaxed approach to noise, movement, sound and light.”
UP NEXT: What’s next for you? Well, you have many choices. If you’d like a swirling dance-intensive musical, GRAND HOTEL is beautifully staged and up through October 14. O’FLAHERTY V.C. is a short one-act by G.B. Shaw himself with a wickedly engaging anti-war slant, and that runs before lunch through October 6. And, speaking of anti-war, OH WHAT A LOVELY WAR runs through October 13, while the somewhat disquieting THE BARONESS AND THE PIG runs through October 6. while Shakespeare’s HENRY V goes to the end of the season, October 28.
Lead image: Vanessa Sears, Travis Seetoo, and Matt Nethersole | Photo by David Cooper
*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)
ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.
TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.
THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.
FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.
FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!