By Sherrema Bower
When Madeleine L’Engle first wrote her timeless children’s classic, “A Wrinkle in Time,” in 1960, the book was rejected nearly 30 times before being accepted by Farrar, Straus & Giroux, who published it to acclaim in 1962. “Wrinkle” won L’Engle a Newberry Medal and is the first of her “Time Quintet,” a fantasy and science fiction series of five novels for young adults. It has appeared on both the New York Times One Hundred Outstanding Books for Young Readers list, as well as the American Libraries Association list of frequently challenged and banned books.
Tracy Young’s stage adaptation of “Wrinkle,” now playing at Flint Youth Theatre (FYT) through Sunday, Oct. 22, is imaginatively directed by Michael Lluberes. It is the story of a very human, eclectic family. Mr. Murry (Bret Beaudry) is a space-traveling physicist commissioned by NASA on a top-secret mission.
But something goes terribly wrong when, instead of tessering to Mars as planned, he tessers (travels through a tesseract, or a wrinkle in time) to the Planet Camazotz, where the inhabitants are dominated and controlled by IT, an evil, disembodied brain.
Back on Planet Earth, his 14-year-old daughter Meg (Paige Benner) misses her father deeply and worries over his years-long, mysterious disappearance to the detriment of her self-confidence; she becomes sullen and withdrawn. Meg’s brother, 5-year-old Charles Wallace (Haedyn Scott), is of remarkable intelligence and intuits his sister’s moods, quietly comforting her. Their mother (Kristina Riegle), a Nobel Prize winning scientist, gamely keeps a peaceful demeanor in front of her children, cooking them dinner each night on her Bunsen burner and writing letters to their absent father after they are in bed. Sandy and Dennys, 10-year-old twins (real-life twins, William and Lucas Eldridge), are the practical ones in this family and do not participate in their siblings’ supernatural adventures. Still, this does not keep Meg, Charles Wallace and their friend, Calvin O’Keefe (Syd Brown) from departing this planet from the twins’ vegetable garden one evening after dinner, on a mission to bring Mr. Murry home.
Various notes of import stand out about this excellent production, especially in character development and in the show’s usage of light. All of the players are well cast, but none more so than 10-year-old newcomer, Haedyn Scott, who seems to have an innate ability to personify the serious demeanor and supreme intellect of the child prodigy, Charles Wallace.
The adult performers take turns narrating and each performs various roles, thus adding to the variety and depth of the story. For instance, the celestial beings of Mrs. Whatsit (Amy Dolan-Malaney), Mrs. Who (Brittany Reed), and Mrs. Which (Kristina Riegle) are billions of years old, but appear to humans as elderly women.
Kristina Riegle as Mother patiently loves Meg through her tantrums and as Mrs. Which, powerfully tessers and empowers Meg to find her truest self. Laura Jarrett plays a very glitzy Happy Medium, who lives on a planet nestled within Orion’s Belt, and also portrays Aunt Beast on Planet Ixchel.
As Meg, Mr. Murry, and Calvin recuperate while deciding how to rescue Charles Wallace who has been taken psychologically captive by IT on Camazotz, they meet Aunt Beast. A m,atriarch with a peaceful demeanor, she wears a coat of light grey fur with a massive, pointed, white fur hat atop her head, and slatted sunglasses symbolizing her inability to see. Tentacles made of long tubes for hands and tusks round out this elaborate costume, giving Aunt Beast the resemblance of a mystical walrus, the ancient symbol of protection. She ministers to the paralysed Meg and says compassionately to Meg’s companions, “The child is distraught. Don’t judge her harshly. She was almost taken by the Black Thing [the source of all evil in the universe]. Sometimes we can’t know what spiritual damage it leaves even when physical recovery is complete.” Aunt Beast sings a healing song by swinging one of her tubes in a circle so that the breeze blowing through it produces a beautifully haunting melody. She heals Meg with her ethic of care.
Meg’s angry, impatient, and awkward, yet honest demeanor is well portrayed by Paige Benner. She is encouraged by Mrs. Whatsit to re-imagine her faults as strengths in returning to Camazotz and rescuing Charles Wallace from the angry and evil IT. The eccentric known as Mrs. Whatsit to the townfolk metamorphoses as a centaur, her long wings imaginatively and organically portrayed on stage as sheets on clotheslines (see photo and the story for more about those sheets).
Dakotah James Myers gives an artful and frolicsome portrayal of the Murry family’s dog, Fortinbras, yet also performs as the Man with Red Eyes, IT’s assistant responsible for capturing – possessing, even – Charles Wallace. By portraying such diametrically opposed characters, his performance serves as a reminder that both good and evil can reside in us all.
What this production does with light and media make it well worth seeing on these strengths alone. For instance, when the children and Mr. Murry tesser, images of retro light swell and pulsate, turning the space into a vortex to depict their shuttle through time. A projected still image of a seemingly everyday apartment complex fills the space when the children arrive on Planet Camazotz. This mundane scene, so familiar to earthlings, depicts the sameness of this place and seems to carry a simple yet eloquent metaphor that Camazotz – and IT – are never far away.
The original music captures the piece’s various moods, from the dreamy to the dire, and the superb technical team includes projection designer Alison Dobbins, scenic designer Lisa Borton, costume designer Katherine Nelson, lighting designer Doug Mueller, sound designer Gene Oliver, and stage manager Nicole Broughton. Together, they bring the synchronous elements of the production’s usage of light and image and a meticulous development of the characters to bring this timeless classic life.
According to Stephanie Ramirez, FYT’s Production Administrative Director, “Wrinkle” is the first MainStage production of FYT’s 60th season, and is performed for schools during the day as a part of FYT’s Learning Through Theatre Series. The FYT “model for productions is to cast students in age appropriate roles, and they work alongside adult professional actors,” she said. This production fits that model very well.
But this production of vibrant, creative imagination is for more than just the young. The themes of science, religion, metaphysics, and the existential questions surrounding identity, family, and love that make “Wrinkle” so timeless can hold captive the imagination of lovers of science fiction and the humanities, children and adults alike. The political overtones in this story hold true, whether they depict Americans’ Cold War fears of the early 1960s when “Wrinkle” was first published, or in the uncertainties of today’s (read: Trump’s) America. As the writers of the Old Testament Book of Ecclesiastes and “Wrinkle” remind us, in love and peril, there is nothing new under the sun.
EVM Staff Writer Sherrema Bower can be reached at email@example.com.
“A Wrinkle in Time”
Where: Flint Youth Theatre, 1220 E. Kearsley St., Flint Cultural Center
When: 7 p.m. Friday, 2 p.m. & 7 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday; ends Oct. 22
Learning Through Theatre School Performances available by reservation to education groups. Call FYT’s Education Office at (810) 237-1530.
Tickets: $18 adults/$14 children (3-12)/$16 teens (13-17), seniors and veterans/$8 college students with valid college I.D./$10 group rate for groups of 12 or more
Information: (810) 237-7333, www.thefyt.org
Running time: 90 minutes, no intermission