'A Wrinkle in Time' by Madeleine L'Engle with adaptation for the stage by Thomas Morgan Jones
Now onstage at Stratford Festival's Avon Theatre
Credit: David Hou. From left: Noah Beemer, Nestor Lozano Jr, Robert Markus and Celeste Cantena.
Guest writer Geoffrey Coulter, actor, director, arts educator
There’s much to take in at ‘A Wrinkle in Time.’ Unfortunately, it’s not a good thing.
“A Wrinkle in Time,” a new adaptation of Madeleine L’Engle’s 1962 novel aimed at young readers, is an audio/visual frenzy of other-worldly video projections and sounds, taking its audiences on an interdimensional trek with its young protagonists to save Earth, the galaxy and one lost scientist father.
Along the way, we’re joined by enigmatic guides, fantastical creatures, and alien landscapes while battling an evil force that threatens to take over the galaxy.
Sound like a lot to take in?
It is, especially if, like me, you’ve never read the books or seen the 2018 film starring Oprah Winfrey and Reese Witherspoon. This is not a good thing as the play assumes you’re part of a niche crowd familiar with the characters, their setting, and situations. This production forced me to accept that things would happen on-stage without context or explanation for who, what, where, when, and why.
The “plot” revolves around 13-year-old Meg Murry, her genius kid brother Charles Wallace and Meg’s friend Calvin O’Keefe. Charles and Meg’s father Alex, a secret government scientist involved in space-time continuum stuff, has been missing for two years. Why he disappeared and where he might be aren’t revealed.
On a dark and stormy night, the Murry’s new neighbour, Mrs. Whatsit drops by for a visit. She mentions something about a “tesseract.” The next night, a curious Meg and Charles decide to visit Mrs. Whatsit to find out more. Along the way, they coax Calvin O’Keefe, Meg’s schoolmate, to accompany them. Once at Mrs. Whatsit’s house, they see she has a guest, Mrs. Who, who has a penchant for spewing quotes from famous people. Another strange voice is heard from a Mrs. Which who promises the Murry’s that she and the other Mrs. W’s will help them find their father.
The enigmatic Mrs. Ws can transport themselves and the children through time and space, wrinkling time so distant galaxies and planets can inter-connect. They discover that an evil entity called The Shadow threatens to take over the universe. The Mrs. Ws also know that the children’s father, Alex, is being held captive on the planet Camazotz. For some inexplicable reason, the Mrs. Ws are powerless to help the children save Alex, so it’s up to the kids to bust him out. To do that, Charles must allow himself to be taken over by an all-seeing group mind called “it.”
Will the children be able to find and rescue Alex? Will they be able to release Charles from the hold “it” has on his mind?
At this point, I didn’t really care.
Of course, the play answers these questions, but meh.
My fundamental problem with this show is that the plot isn’t straightforward. I had no idea what was happening except that three children were trying to save the father of two of them with the help of three supernatural women who seemed to turn their powers on and off as they saw fit.
Sadly, I could care less if they succeeded or not.
The plot is convoluted, illogical, and obtuse, with huge unexplained gaps in logic and storytelling. Who are these Mrs. Ws? Why do they have magic powers? How is it they know where Alex is? The questions are multitudinous. Could we not have had a few lines of explanation from some of the characters to help us understand some of what’s going on?
The silly eccentricity of Thomas Morgan Jones’ direction (he also adapted the original source material), ludicrous, out-of-step choreography, ropey dialogue, and implausible situations had me and my companion tuned out.
This is a show for fans only.
Production elements are slightly more engaging. Ethereal recordings of storms and alien sounds add atmosphere. On an otherwise bare stage stand two large monolithic rectangles, courtesy of designer Teresa Przybylski. Strange, fantastic, bizarre, often cheesy videos of planets, galaxies, storms, and assorted manic images by jaymez are projected onto each side of these rotating trapezoids, suggesting new locations. The only furniture pieces are square steel frames suggesting a bed, kitchen table, and chairs.
Lighting design by Kimberly Purtell is often shadowy and flat due to the extensive use of side lighting to illuminate faces.
Costumes by Robin Fisher are a delight - creative and whimsical. Humans wear everyday hoodies, jeans, and fleece pullovers, but aliens like the denizens of Camazotz wear oversized grey business suits with red umbrellas and pocket squares. The Mrs. W’s are colourful and over-the-top with high wigs and Viking helmets. Also notable is the frightful glowing eyes and sharp claws of the evil “it” minion, the Man with Red Eyes. The three lumbering four-armed dinosaur-like Aunt Beast characters are both fantastic and awe-inspiring.
With such a muddy premise, thank goodness the cast does their best to commit to their threadbare characters and corny situations. At least they understand what’s going on.
As Meg, Charles and Calvin, Celeste Catena, Noah Beemer and Robert Markus convincingly played children with energetic exuberance. Beck Lloyd is fine doing double duty as a cerebral earthling Mom Kate and a Camazotzian mother. As Dad Alex, Jamie Mac does his best with a one-note performance. As the three Mrs. Ws, Nestor Lozano Jr. as Mrs. Whatsit was mostly engaging, but their dialogue seemed somehow forced and often disingenuous.
Khadijah Roberts and her interminable habit of quoting people seemed to distance her from the audience. Are we supposed to recognize the obscure quotes and the people who said them? Kim Horsman as Mrs. Which plays a serious diva who looks ready to star in a Wagnerian opera. Erica Peck plays a manic whirling dervish called Happy Medium whose character has no purpose whatsoever.
With all the sci-fi babble, talk of tesseracts and inter-dimensional travel, abstract visuals and sound effects, children may be intrigued by this show. Then again, they may not.
Despite its sometimes-exotic production values, it fails to tell a straightforward story with enough detail to make it understandable. You may be appeased if you’ve read the books and are familiar with the stories.
If not, you’ll spend 95 minutes scratching your head in confusion rather than delighting in awe.
Running time: approximately 95 minutes with one intermission.
‘A Wrinkle In Time’ runs until October 29 at the Avon Theatre at the Stratford Festival. For tickets, visit stratfordfestival.ca.