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The lion, the witch and the arboretum
Theatre-Hikes stages children's classic this fall
By Ann Piccininni | Daily Herald Correspondent
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Published: 9/27/2007 12:09 AM

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In C.S. Lewis' classic tale "The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe" four children enter a magical but threatening world of wintry woods through a portal hidden deep in the back of their uncle's wardrobe.

Their adventures in the land of Narnia, where they encounter a compassionate lion and a nasty witch, teach them about choosing between good and evil.

A stage adaptation of the Lewis' novel, written by Joseph Robinette, will be presented at Morton Arboretum on weekends beginning Saturday and continuing through Oct. 28 as a Theatre-Hike experience. It's part of the Lisle museum's multi-faceted Fall Color Festival.

Theatre-Hikes, a Chicago-based theater company founded by artistic director Frank Farrell, combines 2-mile hikes through the woods with theatrical presentations.

"It's a wonderful combination of two disciplines, theater and hiking," Farrell said. "Narnia is the woods. It's the perfect play to do in the Theater-Hikes format."

Farrell's Theatre-Hikes shows, performed at several Chicago-area venues, have become a mainstay at the arboretum.

Past shows include "The Miracle Worker," "Davy Crockett," "Frankenstein" and "Little Women," which Farrell directed over the summer.

He decided to take on "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" after repeated suggestions and requests for the story from audience members.

"I've been thinking about it for a few years," he said.

When the children in the story first arrive in Narnia, it is cold and snowy, a condition that likely will require the audience's willing suspension of disbelief.

"Everyone's shivering and has big coats on," Farrell said of the 13-member cast.

Because the cast, crew and audience move from one location to another between scenes, he said, the program relies heavily on costuming and mime rather than set pieces to create a sense of time and place.

"Costumes are a big thing for us," said Farrell, adding that costume designer Melinda Wilson's work evokes the period of the 1940s.

For this show, Farrell will serve as hike leader. Linda LeVeque, a frequent Theatre-Hikes director and the company's associate artistic director, is directing the show.

LeVeque said hikers will see the show in nine scenes with 5- to 10-minute walks between.

"They can either have a folding chair or a blanket with them," she said, adding that visitors with blankets sit closest to the improvised stage.

The cast and crew don't lug much with them, just a spartan collection of set pieces and a few select props. Having such streamlined surroundings does affect the dynamics of the show's delivery, she said.

"You get down to the brass tacks of what the story is -- you can't be relying on stage trickery," she said.

LeVeque said the play is appropriate for all ages.

"We're expecting a lot of parents and children," she said. "Everyone turns out to see a favorite story."

If you go

What: "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" presented by Theatre-Hikes

Where: Morton Arboretum, 4100 Route 53, Lisle

When: 1 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through Oct. 28; 1 p.m. Oct. 8

Cost: $12 for arboretum members, $15 for others

Info: (630) 725-2066, mortonarb.org or theatre-hikes.org