The Free Press, Mankato, MN

April 3, 2014

Fantasy, reality converge in Merely Players' 'The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe'

Fantasy, reality converge in Merely Players' 'The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe'

By Tanner Kent
tkent@mankatofreepress.com

---- — Sesamae Glackler-Riquelme was prepared for rejection.

The 13-year-old who, in her own words, "has always wanted to act but never wanted to do anything about it," was among dozens who showed up at the Lincoln Community Center in February to audition for parts in the Merely Players Community Theatre's production of "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe."

Without any prior acting experience, Glackler-Riquelme said she was surprised to get a call-back for a second audition. Still, she said her mom counseled her that you can't always get what you want, even when you want it really badly.

"But then I ended up getting the part," said Glackler-Riquelme, who plays an integral role in the production — which opens Friday — as one of the four human children that stumble into the magical realm of Narnia through an old wardrobe in an adaptation of C.S. Lewis' 1950 fantasy novel. "I had some confidence issues at the beginning, but I'm beginning to feel more comfortable."

Such is the nature of Merely Players Community Theatre, a proving ground for young talent and theatre hopefuls — even those completely new to the stage.

And Glackler-Riquelme isn't alone. With a cast numbering 35 individuals, most of them for parts that require younger actors, it's perhaps not surprising to see so many new faces. Even the director, Minnesota State University theatre graduate and Waseca native Shelley Whitehead, is making her Merely Players debut

Hans Rupnow is also making his first Merely Players appearance as Edmund, the temperamental but ultimately courageous young boy whose deception — both by the White Witch and his own deception of his siblings — drives the narrative. Arianna Borgmeier is also making her Merely Players debut as the elf, although she's already a seasoned theatre veteran.

"I've done two plays at (Minnesota State University) and the Prairie Fire plays," she said, citing recent MSU productions of "Les Miserables" and "Sound of Music" in addition to productions held in Mankato by the professional touring children's theatre. "I just really like being in plays."

Several Merely Players veterans are playing supporting roles, however, and their talents bring vibrance and color to the storytelling.

Launa Helder, who has served as an actor and director for a variety of area theatre productions, plays the part of the White Witch, who has ruled the land for a century in a period of extended winter and is fearful of a prophecy involving four human children who will save Narnia. Punctuating her icy machinations with scowls and shrieks, Helder performs with convincing menace.

Likewise for the chief of her secret police, Fenris Ulf, who is played by Taylor Anderson. The 24-year-old is participating in his eighth consecutive Merely Players production, and his third as a villain. Clad in black, Anderson stalks the human children with a stentorian cackle. He pants and growls even when his character is not speaking and moves with a sort of savage force.

"I'm just naturally this evil," he joked.

Another pair of theatre veterans, Molly Smith and Leslie DuPree-Cady, added their expertise as costume designers. And theirs was no small task. With such characters as porcupines, badgers, unicorns and bears, the pair of costume artists had to be creative in assembling (and repairing) the large and tedious wardrobe.

The scene design is also impressive with a large backdrop and set pieces suitable for scenes at the lamppost (which is the first waypoint once the children enter Narnia), Mr. and Mrs. Beaver's dining room, the White Witch's castle and Tumnus' home.

"There are definitely a couple funny parts, but it's mostly serious and magical," said Joseph Witte, who plays the eldest sibling, Peter.

Glackler-Riquelme added: "Hopefully, people feel the emotion."

If You Go What "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" Performances 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Saturday as well as April 11 and 12; also 2 p.m. on April 6 and 13. All performances at Lincoln Community Center. Tickets $15 (adults), $12 (seniors) and $9 (students); available for purchase at www.merelyplayers.com, by calling 507-388-5483 or at the door.