Posted by: strugglesome | May 17, 2012

Dr. Who: People’s Light and Theatre Company’s A Wrinkle in Time

Almost all adventure stories start with a motley crew of likely or unlikely heroes who band together in a common purpose, travel together along a difficult perilous journey, and eventually, despite their differences, realize they are stronger together then they are apart. Because as we all know, no man is an island. And that’s why heroes stand together, but villains always seem to exist all by their lonesome. We know these stories to be universal, just as we know their morals to be true. And why is that? Because we learned of them in our childhood, story after story, trope after trope, learning good from bad as we travel with the characters inside the worlds of books. Each one of these tales tell us how to live our lives: find some friends, stick together through the bad things, have good goals, don’t be afraid of bad people, and know that you are stronger than you think. No matter how fantastical the world of the story, be it Hogwarts or Middle Earth, Narnia or The Sea of Stories, the narrative itself is simple. Believe in yourself, and everything else will fall into place.

And despite the sameness of these stories, it is the comfort of their regularity that allows us to connect with them, regardless of our age. While we need these stories as children, we also need them as adults, to remind us what we learnt as children, and to renew our sense of wonder and adventure, our understanding that anything is possible as long as you pursue it with a pure heart. And it is both a sense of wonder and a thrill of adventure that one feels while watching People’s Light and Theatre Company’s A Wrinkle in Time, a cleverly executed children’s show that can’t help but capture the attention of people of all ages.

This tale revolves around Meg Murry (Emilie Krause), an awkward adolescent whose father has been missing for over two years. However, he didn’t run off with a waitress or abandon his family, Meg is sure of that. As both of her parents are brilliant scientists, her father must have disappeared during a top-secret government experiment. But Meg doesn’t just have her father to worry about, there is her younger brother, Charles Wallace (Conrad Bender) , a brilliant scientific protagey trapped in the body of a little boy. Meg, confused and clumsy, insecure and impulsive, works to defend Charles Wallace from mean-spirited gossips and keeps the faith that her father will someday come home, all the while boiling on the inside, angry at the word for all it’s injustices. But when Charles Wallace encounters some older ladies in the woods near their house who seem, well, odd, to say the least, Meg and Charles Wallace and Calvin (Aubie Merrylees), a high school hunk who wanders into their lives, find themselves plunged into an adventure beyond their wildest dreams. And the stakes, as they always are, are miles high and fraught with danger. With the adults (Pete Prior, Cathrine Slusar and Tom Bryn) filling in all the other roles (which makes sense, doesn’t it? Aren’t all adults rather interchangeable when you’re a child?) the Murry children and their new companion make their way through space and time, and discover in that journey what true strength and true evil really are. Do they make it home safely, surviving the perilous trip? Of course they do. If hobbits could make it through the fires of Mordor, these kids can do anything.

Staged in the theater’s gorgeously grande mainstage space, and carefully crafted by director Samantha Bellomo and a team of inventive designers, this production balances technical tricks with emotional heft to create more worlds than Stargate on a simply stark stage. A bi-level affair of metal piping and cold dark tones, courtesy of set designer James Pyne, it works better as an otherwordly set then the cosy home of the Murry’s, the central family of the story, but it functions neatly nonetheless. The Brian Sanders-esqe hanging window frames work as time-space travel devices, spinning madly as the cast travels through wormholes and violates the space-time continuum. Unlike many other novels for young people, which rely on the concept of magic, L’Engle’s story, here adapted by John Gore, is all about science, and as a result the stagecraft of this production has a scientific quality mixed with a dose of whimsy. Marla Jurglanis’ costumes are excellent, having their chances to shine most with the characters of the worlds beyond earth and taking care not to date anything about the production too specifically (the novel was, after all, published in the early 1960’s, and while parts of it are timeless, other lines and moments couldn’t have come from anywhere but the past). The Broken Chord Collective created the sound for this piece, and both the music and the spectacular sound engineering are amazing to observe. The design of this piece manages to appear simple and straightforward but still inducing gasps of delight from its audience, both young and old.

As I sat in the theater I observed both children and adults utterly absorbed in the world of this play, following along and entering into the world(s) of the story with joy. And I can’t blame them, in fact, I myself, who as a child found this novel not to my liking, couldn’t help but cheer for this motley crew and nibble my nails at their trials. The thing I liked least about the book was its protagonist, and now as an adult I can admit that perhaps that had more to do with seeing her flaws in myself than anything else. After all, we hate most what reminds us most deeply of our own faults. But Krause’s Meg is ultimately charmingly sympathetic, playing with the awkward and insecure aspects of the character, but strong in the best of ways, and fearless when it comes to love. Her ownership of the story drives the journey, and creates a situation in which it is perfectly clear by Merrylees’ endearing and sweetly comic Calvin wants to be her fella. Bender shines most strongly in his scenes when he’s with Krause, their bond giving empathy to what is, even at the end of the play, a rather mysterious character. And the grown-ups to a lion’s share of the work, alternately villains and helpers, eccentric old ladies (or are they…), parents, and narrators. The cast works beautifully together as a unit, coordinated and collective, well choreographed and smooth.

It’s very telling that this story was penned in the late 1950’s/early 1960’s. Villains might not be islands, but they are also not free from influence. They represent what we fear most, evil, yes, always, but what does evil really mean? At the point in time with this novel was written, the United States was emerging from a post-War boom that had emphasized a return to normalcy, and with it, conformity. Suburban paradises of little white houses and green lawns, all the same, stretching forth into the sunset, a world of sameness and fear, fear of the unknown, of choices, of subversion through dissent, these things haunted American society, saturating its inhabitants with both social anxiety and deep unrest. In 1963, Betty Friedan published The Feminine Mystique. Just one year earlier. L’Engle, after many many tries, finally got A Wrinkle in Time published. Different books, different goals, different audiences, but we can draw the same conclusion. These are stories of protest, and who is to say that what we give our children isn’t more valuble then what we give to anyone else?

People’s Light and Theatre Company’s production of A Wrinkle in Time is playing until the 20th of May. Tickets are available here.

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