Genny Friesen, Laura Gibson, & Will DeVary in A Wrinkle in Time. Photo by Crystal Ludwick.
A Wrinkle in Time
By Madeline L’ Engle
Directed by Heather Burns
Review by Keith Waits
Entire contents are copyright © 2017 Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
A staple in educational curriculum and a certifiable science-fiction/fantasy classic since its publication in 1963, A Wrinkle in Time comes to the Nancy Niles Sexton Stage just ahead of a much-anticipated film adaptation from director Ava DuVernay (Selma).
I remember reading the novel in elementary school and loving it, but that was nearly fifty years ago, so I don’t remember too much about the story. Seeing the plot play out in John Glore’s adaptation, it suddenly felt familiar again. Awkward and stubborn 13-year-old Meg Murray (Genny Friesen) and her brilliant, savant-like kid brother Charles Wallace Murray (Laura Gibson) make friends with 15-year-old Calvin (Will DeVary) shortly before Mrs. Whatsit (Taylor Broder) and Mrs. Who (Hermoine Austin-Goodin) two mysterious and eccentric women, who, with the assistance of another, formless being named Mrs. Which, whisk the three youngsters through a phenomenon called a tesseract to the dark planet Camazotz in search of their scientist father (Jacob Craigo-Snell).
L’Engle fashions a partly abstract struggle with evil in fundamental terms, describing the oversize villain as “The Black Thing,” and “It,” and the power to defeat the powerful evil force comes from the positive and unique qualities of the youthful protagonists, an idea which followed the classic narratives that preceded A Wrinkle in Time, but also clearly influenced a wealth of popular culture that followed it. For a later example of courageous kids confronting an overwhelming supernatural force of evil, think about Stephen King’s IT, which is also the subject of a new film adaptation, or the buzzy Netflix series Stranger Things, which will soon be premiering the second season.
Director Heather Burns stages this Wrinkle with a spare setting populated by platforms and blocks painted with cosmic motifs, using creative lighting and sound design to conjure a strange and magical atmosphere, and she draws uniformly good work from her cast. Laura Gibson makes the right impression as Charles Wallace, with a preternaturally placid expression and calm voice. Genny Friesen makes for a fetching heroine, playing Meg like a raw nerve; her almost constant state of anguish compelling but also a manic edge that is exhausting. She does have an easy chemistry with Will DeVary’s Calvin, and their romantic spark is nicely underplayed. Her overly emphatic vocal delivery, perhaps meant to convey her malcontent stubbornness, is a nice contrast to the DeVary and Gibson’s restraint. William Ngong is also a standout as the Man With The Red Eyes, an enigmatic telepath on Camazotz.
The spare staging is nicely fleshed out by Lindsay Chamberlin’s costumes, particularly for the Mrs. Whatsit and Mrs. Who, and there is a very interesting creature called Aunt Beast which pushes the limit of manifesting an alien onstage strictly through costume construction.
L’Engle’s themes are timeless and universal, and the camaraderie among the three kids has made it a story with particular appeal to young readers, but it seemed to have a clear influence on adults as well. The scenes of silent, powerful telepaths, a disconnected brain controlling an entire world, and an ability to travel through space in mere moments are essential building blocks in the original Star Trek series, produced only a few years after the publication of Wrinkle, and that first audience for the novel grew up to embrace the self-referential fantasy juggernauts of Star Wars and E.T., positioning A Wrinkle in Time as not just a great story, but a milestone in the development of popular culture in the second half of the 20the Century. Watching this splendid production made me want to read it again.
A Wrinkle in Time
September 21, 22, 23, 28, 29, & 30 @ 7:30
September 23 & 30 @ 2:00pm
Commonwealth Theatre Center
Nancy Sexton Stage
1123 Payne Street
Louisville, KY 40204
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of PUBLIC on WXOX-FM 97.1/ ARTxFM.com, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.