A Wrinkle In Time At Stratford
A Wrinkle In Time, based on Madeleine L’Engel’s best-selling children’s novel of 1962, is 2023’s entry in the Stratford Festival’s ongoing series of Schulich Children’s Plays at the Avon Theatre.
A Wrinkle In Time, the book, is a lumpy mixture of sci-fi, fantasy, and Christian hermeneutics. I found the prose pedestrian, the plotting puzzling, and the messaging muddled. None of that prevented the book from selling like hotcakes and winning the Newbery Award, so what do I know?
However, I am pleased to report that A Wrinkle In Time, the play, in a “bold” adaptation by Thomas Morgan Jones (does anyone write just plain old “adaptations” anymore?) is megaparsecs more entertaining than the book.
A Wrinkle In Time tells the tale of the Murry kids who, along with a friend, travel across the universe to save their father. The senior Murry (Jamie Mac) is a scientist who has been experimenting with fifth dimensional travel; he’s been missing for two years.
This band of intrepid travelers is composed of preternaturally intelligent Charles Wallace (Noah Beemer), his awkward older sister Meg (Celeste Catena), and Calvin O’Keefe (Robert Markus), who is fleeing a dysfunctional family. The two boys have some extra-sensory abilities, while Meg, the play’s protagonist, has only “faults.”
Charles Wallace has been contacted by a trio of supernatural beings, Mrs. Whatsit (Nestor Lozano, Jr.), Mrs. Who (Khadijah Roberts-Abdullah), and their boss Mrs. Which (a commanding Kim Horsman), who facilitate the children’s journey and teach them the secrets of the tesseract, which creates the wrinkle in time that gives the play its title.
Eventually they reach the planet Camazotz, where a large disembodied brain called IT has created a world in which people live in a state of mega-MAGA thralldom and where Father is being held captive.
I suppose I should scream SPOILER ALERT before revealing that all ends well and everyone gets home safely.
Adaptor Jones, who also directed, has trimmed L’Engle’s story artfully. He has dispensed with all the Christianity, excised any mention of Father’s connection with a top-secret government project, snipped out a few extraneous characters, and reduced the roles of others, like the tentacled Aunt Beast, to the bare necessities.
Most important, he has given A Wrinkle In Time a dazzlingly inventive production that ignores the plot inconsistencies and replaces all the book’s tedious explanations with the wonder of theatrical wizardry. The story is reduced, quite nicely thank you very much, to its essence: kids battle evil, save Dad, happy ending.
At play’s end the three supernatural ladies step forward to the lip of the stage and deliver a new message that reflects the current secular dispensation: celebrate difference and sprinkle it all over with love, which come to think of it is pretty much the same as the Christian message it replaces.
The kids carry the show and the actors are uniformly excellent. Noah Beemer captures Charles Wallace’s uber geekiness, Celeste Catena delivers a suitably angst-ridden Meg, and Robert Markus, who must be well over thirty, makes a most convincing teenage Calvin.
Of the supernatural spirit guides (if that’s what they are), I was specially taken by Nestor Lozano, Jr., who is such an impressive Angel in Rent, as Mrs. Whatsit and Kim Horsman as Mrs. Which. Erica Peck makes an impression in her brief appearance as the Happy Medium.
Teresa Przybylski’s set consists of two monolithic, rotating, multi-sided towers on which jaymez [sic] projects a never-ending stream of psychedelic imagery that creates the illusion of time travel, distant planets, cosmic disruption, and the universe itself. Kimberly Purtell lights it all beautifully.
The costumes Robin Fisher has created for the denizens of the universe are as delightful as they are colorful. I assume it was she who also devised the enormous costumes-slash-puppets for Aunt Beast and friends.
I generally find mic’ing of straight plays annoying, but given the music and sound design of Deanna H. Choi and the overall sense of cinematic wonder that Jones conjures it works perfectly here.
Jones, who has a background as a “movement coach,” has used body movement to create the illusion of the stresses of interstellar travel by means of the tesseract. It is surprisingly effective and yet another example of the ways in which simple creativity can replace many thousands of dollars worth of special effects.
I thoroughly enjoyed A Wrinkle In Time, as did the legions of cheering kids with whom I saw the show. My guess is you’ll like it, too.
Footnote: It’s impossible to go to the theatre nowadays without marveling at the impact of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion movement. And so it was that I found myself at A Wrinkle In Time considering a marginalized and oppressed group that has precious little representation on the Stratford stage – children.
The kids in A Wrinkle In Time are played by adults, of course, and it works perfectly well. I’m sure the actual children in the audience had no difficulty at all accepting this convention. Yet I couldn’t help but think that something had been lost.
Charles Wallace is supposed to be six years old, Meg 13, and Calvin 15. How wonderful would it be to see this show performed by young actors who more accurately represented L’Engle’s vision? This was a world premiere of an excellent script which will surely have an afterlife. Perhaps a future production will take up the challenge.
A Wrinkle In Time Continues at the Avon Theatre through October 29, 2023. For more information and to purchase tickets visit the Stratford Festival website.
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