A Wrinkle in Time at Children's Theatre Company
Over the past half-century, generations of schoolchildren have thrilled to the adventures of Meg Murry in A Wrinkle in Time as she travels through the universe to find and rescue her absent father. While Madeline L'Engle's adventure was certainly cool—Space travel! Alien landscapes! A giant brain!—it was the story's big heart that made it a classic.
The Children's Theatre Company production of the play retains the cool and the big heart in a fast-paced thrill ride that distills the story down to its essence. Under the expert direction of Greg Banks, six actors take on the numerous roles with aplomb.
It starts, as in the book, on a "dark and stormy night," when we are quickly introduced to young outsider Meg and her brilliant and slightly odd brother, Charles Wallace. The stress caused from their missing father can be seen in the children and their mother. The scientist had been part of a secret government project and then was gone.
A mysterious trio of women—Mrs. Who, Which, and Whatsit—let them know the truth. Their father has learned how to travel across the universe via a tesseract, the titular "wrinkle in time." The ladies can help the siblings and Calvin, another youth who tags along for the ride, but the journey, of course, will be dangerous. That's especially true when they get to Camazotz, a planet deep in the darkness that threatens the universe, where conformity is enforced by law.
A moody, dark, and textured set (from Joseph Stanley) creates the atmosphere, while a mixture of simple theatrical effects, rear projections, and fantastic costumes (by Mary Anna Culligan) move the story along at a brisk pace. That gives the actors an excellent platform to do their work, which they eagerly take on, led by a terrific trio of young performers.
As Meg, Helena Scholz-Carlson is our emotional focus; this is her heroic journey, starting with a deep desire to reunite her family and ending with a final confrontation with the dark evil that controls Camazotz, in order to save her brother. She's helped along by Brandon Brooks, who brings out both the oddness and warmth of Charles Wallace, and by Noah Crandell as Calvin, who manages to find his own position in the spaces between the brother-and-sister act.
The three adults do great work with their characters, led by Ann Michels as both the siblings' mother and their mother figure on their journey, Mrs. Who. Pearce Bunting gives their father real complexity in the character's limited time onstage, and Autumn Ness carries the rest of the weight, especially as second oddball lady, Mrs. Whatsit.
Greg Banks has done terrific work at CTC through the years, and this production continues that streak. A Wrinkle in Time has the hallmarks of his past work: strong acting and design built on a vibrant, athletic theatrical style. And like his best work in the past, all the elements—and there are some breathtaking moments sprinkled throughout the show—merge into a story with a very big heart.
Sometimes, you know from the opening seconds of a show that you are in good hands. Before we see the performers in The Burial at Thebes at the Guthrie, we hear them. They are intoning a musical chant as the company walks from the rear of the McGuire Proscenium down to the stage, where designer Monica Frawley has crafted a massive stone burial chamber for the show.
From the beginning, there is a sense of the ancient weight of the Antigone story, presented in a new version by Irish playwright Seamus Heaney. That is tempered from the outset by the music, brought to life by ace composer J.D. Steele. These modern sounds, which are mixed with contemporary references and allusions (some of Creon's lines come straight from the mouth of George W. Bush), add to the complexity of Marcela Lorca's vision of the story.
At its heart, Antigone's is a simple story. After her brothers have killed each other fighting on two sides of a battle, she wants to make sure both are given proper burials to lead them to the underworld. King Creon, however, has decreed that the brother who fought against him cannot be buried—he must remain above ground.
As this is a Greek tragedy, things don't go well for anyone, especially headstrong Antigone and proud Creon. The production gets terrific performances from Sun Mee Chomet and Stephen Yoakam in those roles, as they continue on their stubborn course. That's especially true of Yoakam, who never breaks until his life has been ruined by hubris, wordlessly screaming as the full extent of his folly is revealed before him.
It's the mixture of music and movement, from the five-member chorus and especially Greta Oblesby as the oracle Tiresias, that makes this evening special. At times the action may come off as a little cool as the characters delve into philosophy, but it's always pulled back into the heat.
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