Given what seem to be insurmountable odds against Madeleine L’Engle’s 61-year-old classic A Wrinkle in Time being revived successfully onstage, adaptor/director Thomas Morgan Jones and cast must be justifiably thrilled at the response from opening day’s largely youthful audience.
There have been radical changes in reading habits while general entertainment tastes in literature, film and theatre have shifted, often dictated or altered by political correctness over the last six decades. For a world première adaptation there was much at stake.
Consider what the Stratford Festival company faced from the onset, in terms of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter empire. Millions of young readers worldwide from 1997 to now gleaned on a text-heavy seven-book series selling more than 600-million copies for an almost $8-billion profit.
A subsequent eight-movie franchise launched in 2001 with Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone that ultimately tallied virtually that same billion-dollar sum, again demonstrating the power it had and still has drawing a massive global youth-based audience and marketplace.
Then there are the money-making Marvel Studios, DC Comics and countless other cinematic outfits flooding the markets on a weekly basis with CGI (computer generated images) infused blockbusters featuring A-lister personalities – some cheekily making the proverbial buck showcasing rather cheesy special effects.
There were even two A Wrinkle in Time movies to contend with, the first a Canadian outing was intended to be a series but released as a single film in 2003. With a bigger budget, the perquisite special effects and Oprah Winfrey onboard starring as Mrs. Witch, the 2018 version made some noise at the box office but as expected received mixed reviews both publicly and critically.
Jones, an accomplished artist with more than two decades of impressive credentials as playwright, movement coach, director, coach, and instructor, clearly knew what he had to do from day one and the casting director, Beth Russell, certainly answered the call.
The result – an impressive, much-needed youthful, physically active line-up of actors: Celeste Catena, Noah Beemer, Robert Marcus, Nestor Lozano Jr., Beck Lloyd, Erica Peck, Khadijah Roberts-Abdullah, Germaine Konji, Kim Horsman, Christine Desjardins, Jamie Mac, and Jahlen Barnes.
So how to approach staging a work which, although the recipient of several honours like the Newbery Medal, was no longer in the public eye like Harry Potter and/or frequent visits from Batman, Wonder Woman, Tony Stark, Thor or even Indiana Jones?
Even if the book’s text is sparse at the best of times and less inclined to fully develop its characters, there was clearly potential that the plotline would attract interest from the younger pre-teen set and most certainly their parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, or even kindly neighbours.
That was resolved in fine fashion with the storyline, in a somewhat slimmed-down version but still virtually intact, now presented neatly in just 95 minutes, an ideal time frame for notoriously squirmy, eager to bolt from their seats youngsters and their anxious older relations and/or friends.
A young, intelligent, bold, and forward-thinking heroine Meg Murry (Celeste Catena) leads her younger bullied genius brother Charles Wallace (Noah Beemer) and basketball-playing student chum Calvin O’Keefe (Robert Markus) on a spectacular journey through space and time, from galaxy to galaxy, to save the world and rescue her father (Jamie Mac) who mysteriously disappeared while working on an astounding scientific concept.
As well doing a grand job of being pushed about by cosmic forces – without assistance from the usually ever-present CGIs – the travelling trio is guided along the way by the always wonderfully animated Nestor Lozano Jr. as Mrs. Whatsit, a solid Kim Horsman portraying Mrs. Which and Khadijah Roberts-Abdullah whose Mrs. Who trots out quotes from Shakespeare, Dante, and other philosophers, perhaps a little too frequently.
While they’re credited for their artistic talents, the following deserve to be also listed as thespians. Sans the gliding and ever shifting structures, varying lighting tones, often eerie sci-fi sounds – with a nod and wink to early Star Trek, Dr. Who and classic 50s flicks like Invaders from Mars – the production would be a tad boring.
So, in addition to the director and producer David Auster, proverbial hats off to:
- Set designer Teresa Przybylski
- Costume designer Robin Fisher
- Lighting designer Kimberly Purtell
- Composer and Sound designer Deanna H. Choi
- Production designer jaymez
- Dramaturge Keith Barker
- Creative planning director Jason Miller
The religious overtones in L’Engle’s original text are not part of Jones’s adaption but the remaining elements of the family-friendly stage production focusing on an inter-galactic journey interspersed with scenes youthful curiosity, perseverance and self determination are explored in a surprisingly effective manner along the way.
While the production may not appeal to all tastes, there was a nary a squeak nor disconnected murmur from the young crowd nor any screaming for an ice cream or soft drink before the 20-minute intermission began and those pre-teens sitting in front of your humble scribe were the first to jump to their feet for a much-deserved standing ovation.
A tip from the director who has curated the Spotify playlist:
"I usually find one to three songs or albums that inspire me and then I listen to them obsessively. It becomes a soundtrack for the feeling of the production. The show won't sound like this, but the music gives focus to my imagination. Stranger Things sets a mood, Arrival (suggested by our sound designer/composer Deanna Choi) is a character, and Rodrigo y Gabriela is a tempo. Somehow, in my ear, they all combine to make up Wrinkle."
So, if the mood strikes you to see Man With Red Eyes, Aunt Beast, a Camazotz child or business person or find out what bizarre nickname Meg’s father gave her or learn a little Tesseract then, regardless of age, you might consider a trek to the Avon Theatre where A Wrinkle in Time, set in modern day and all around the universe, is playing until Oct. 29.