Saturday, June 29, 2024

"A Wrinkle in Time" at Theatre in the Round

Madeleine L'Engle's 1962 novel A Wrinkle in Time won many awards, as well as many hearts. It's been adapted several times, including a 2018 film. I remember loving the book as a kid, but no details about it, so I went in almost blind to Theatre in the Round's production of the 2010 stage adaptation. I found it to be a sweet story about the triumph of good over evil, of love over fear. A timely message indeed. TRP's production features an ensemble cast playing many roles, led by a trio of talented young actors, and a charming design utilizing low-tech theater tricks. It's a magical story and production that can be enjoyed by the grown-ups as much as the many youngsters in the audience (continuing through July 14).

If your memory of the book is a little foggy, like mine, the general story arc is that of a classic hero journey. Our hero is 13-year-old Meg, a fierce little girl who doesn't quite fit in at school, with a younger brother Charles Wallace, whom everyone thinks is weird or slow, but is actually quite smart. Their father, a scientist, disappeared a few years ago on a secret mission to save the world, and hasn't been seen since, leaving the family in grief. They befriend an odd woman named Mrs. Whatsit who lives in the neighborhood, who turns out to be a supernatural being, along with her friends Mrs. Who and Mrs. Which. The three women send Meg, Charles Wallace, and their school chum Calvin on a journey across the universe to find their father. After many challenges, and facing up to hard things, in the end love saves them all - and the world.

photo by Aaron Mark Photo Film
This is Meg's story, and they couldn't have found a better actor to portray her than high school student Harriet Spencer. You will not catch her acting, she simply is Meg. She's so natural as this complex young woman who's as tough and guarded as she is open-hearted and unsure, with a believable hero's journey into her own strength and power. Ryan Pierce as Charles Wallace gives two impressive performances, the first one every bit the smart and precocious little boy, the second as a being possessed by an evil spirit. Completing the trio of adventurers is Tic Treitler as the siblings' brave and loyal friend Calvin. The chemistry amongst the three actors is palpable, they really feel like friends. Other highlights in the cast are Shelley Nelson, Robin Gilmer, and Ariel Pinkerton as the three eccentric and sparkly Mrs. Ws, with the remaining six ensemble members playing multiple characters, human and otherwise.

Under director Penelope Parsons-Lord, the ensemble employs a physical acting style, personifying multiple objects and creatures in the universe. They're dressed in identical flowy pants and tunics that give an otherworldly impression, with a costume piece or two added when they play a specific character. The Mrs. Ws are in glittery starry dresses, in contrast to the everyday this-world wardrobe of the trio of kids. 

photo by Tom Taintor
The in-the-round space is bare and open (after the clothesline strung with sheets is removed), with just some block chairs and a table for furniture. The floor is painted with swirls and spikes that mirror the makeup on the ensemble, and blue light reveals paint spatter on the floor and some of the costumes. A unicorn and kindly beasts are represented by some really cool puppets and masks. The whole effect is magical and spacey. (Set design by Keven Lock, lighting design by Mark Kieffer, costume design by Krista Weiss and Penelope Parsons-Lord, puppet design by Elliott Van Winkle.)

There's a reason A Wrinkle in Time has been so beloved for over sixty years, and now I remember why. A story of bravery, adventure, friendship, family, and love, filled with magic and whimsy. Young or old, book lover or not, you can enjoy this charming tale at Theatre in the Round through July 14.