Updated: Jun 12, 2020
IT WAS A DARK AND STORMY NIGHT
Epic fantasies with elaborate special effects are all very well and good, but nothing can compare with the sort of imaginative flights that can be conjured up by good actors and an engaging story. “A Wrinkle in Time,” now in its final day at Chance Theater, Anaheim, is a family-friendly adventure that introduces media-savvy sci-fi voyeurs to a different sort of entertainment.
If you’re not familiar at all with this classic science fiction/fantasy, you may find yourself getting lost when heady concepts like “tesseracts” and “bending the time and space continuum” fly by. Even if you are familiar, John Glore’s new adaptation of Madeleine L’Engle’s 1962 book hurls so much at the audience that it may be tough at times to keep track of what’s going on. There are journeys to bizarre worlds populated by equally bizarre creatures, and there are unusual characters called Mrs. Who, Mrs. Whatsit, and Mrs. Which, who are actually enormous centaurs from another planet posing as human beings.
But while Glore’s playful, yet grandiose adaptation may not be the most articulate conception of L'Engle’s novel to the uninitiated, the visuals are spectacular. In other words, this “A Wrinkle in Time” may not always be crystal clear, but it’s never boring. The play is not so much a contest of global and historical forces anyway, as much as it is a convergence in the emotional life of one teen-age girl.
The book has inspired two film adaptations, both by Disney: a four-hour long 2003 television film directed by John Kent Harrison, and a 2018 theatrical film, which starred Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon and Chris Pine.
Interestingly, playwright Glore has adapted the prize-winning novel so that its many characters can all be played by six performers, and the shifts in location and perspective can be achieved through simple means and an adaptable set.
The most striking part of Megan Hill's spare scenic design (pulling off a set that visualizes not only an early 1960’s American home, but several different planets) are duel-purpose scrims, moving panels and rising platforms that give nuance to early space odyssey films.
Combine that with some of the most elaborate and creative lighting and projection anywhere from the team of Chris Henrriquez and Nick Santiago and you get intricate light projection designs of galaxies, two-dimensional thunderstorms (along with some whimsical sound effects), and surreal time warps.
And that’s just the tip of the proverbial timewarp.
This is the coming-of-age story of a nerdish, lonely teen-age girl, Meg (a spirited Alyssa Corella, “Dogfight”), who has been recruited into a galaxy-spanning quest to rescue her Father (Jeff Lowe). He disappeared years ago in the midst of a dark, mysterious government mission to distant Camazota, where an Orwellian-like totalitarian groupthink mind control of placid uniformity has been imposed, sanding off the edges of despair and happiness. Accompanying Meg are two other gifted children, little brother Charles Wallace and newby Calvin, who are all smart enough to figure out that this will not do at all, battling valiantly against apparently overwhelming odds, while at the same time discovering their own inner strengths.
Meg is smart but prickly, not comfortable around people outside her family, while Charles Wallace (Christopher Diem, “James and the Giant Peach”) is a conspicuous exception among children, a whiz kid endowed with a great mind who puts on the façade of being slow. Meg is the garden-variety type of math-and-science big sister, distracted, adept, loving, for whom he’s a combined source of delight, complicity, and trouble.
Their newfound friend Calvin, a loner who attaches himself to the siblings, embarks with Meg and Charles Wallace on a trek through space and time, as they endeavor to save Meg’s Father and the world. The play offers a glimpse into the war between light and darkness, spirituality and purpose, as the young characters mature into adolescents on their journey, many times thrown into conflicts of love, divinity, and goodness. It’s the first book in L'Engle's Time Quintet, which follows Meg and Calvin further engaging in hazardous and exciting exploits, to unknown territories.
The mystery deepens when the goofball Mrs. Whatsit (played by Matt Takahashi - “A Charlie Brown Christmas”), who dresses like Phyllis Diller, arrives at Meg’s home during a dark, stormy night. Along with her magical friends are the wise Mrs. Who (Lola Kelly - “Middletown,” also playing Meg’s scientist mother), who speaks in a virtual encyclopedia of aptly chosen literary quotations, and the eerie but regal Mrs. Which (also Mr. Lowe), who has universe-shaking powers.
Mrs. Whatsit leads the children and Meg’s crush-object Calvin (Shane Weikel – “The Mousetrap”) into a world of "tesseracts" — the titular twist of the laws of physics which creates a shortcut between distant points in the universe. As they zip through a series of galactic locales full of dark forces, the young prodigy Charles Wallace, complete with thundercloud eyes, undergoes a terrifying change perpetrated by an enormous, tentacular agent of evil called only “It.”
Directors Darryl B. Hovis and James McHale maintains a light touch throughout so that even the "message" parts of the play — specifically, the scenes on a forbidding, bureaucratic gray planet where that malevolent central brain enforces total conformity — don't come across as preachy. Ms. Corella is a charmer as an awkward girl more comfortable with science than with her feelings, and the protean Mr. Diem makes accessible a character who could come across as strange and otherworldly in an adverse way when “It” takes over his mind.
The other four actors form a tight ensemble as they shape-shift (one might say), doubling up in their roles, as Mr. Takahashi does between kindly Mrs. Whatsit and a monster with glowing red eyes, or Ms. Kelly, whose depiction in addition to Mother include an amorphous creature dubbed "Aunt Beast."
The play's tone is so radically earnest at certain points — particularly in its child-centric narrative when it's dealing with loss and disappointment — that its very existence amounts to a contrarian statement. There is definitely plenty of comedy, but it’s also rife with drama. Much of the emotional heavy lifting is done by the “daughter-father” team of Ms. Corella and Mr. Lowe.
Recently seen in “Big Fish” and “Emma,” Mr. Lowe is one of the few who can channel that old-fashioned, George-Bailey-having-a-breakdown-at-the-bar brand of vulnerable masculinity in his roles without seeming as if he's just doing a bit.
A highly condensed, quite impactful one hour epic, "A Wrinkle in Time" is not only an amazing kid-empowering work, but largely attractive to young adults alike. School Library Journal has called it “ a suspenseful, life-and-death drama that is of believable cosmic significance. Complex and rich in mystical religious insights, this is breathtaking entertainment.”
Costume Design by Adriana Lambarri, Sound Design by Hunter Moody, and Production Stage Managed by Randi Salang.
Based on the novel by Madeleine L’Engle, “A Wrinkle in Time,” is in its final performances today, March 1st, at 2pm and 5pm.
Approximately one hour, 5 minutes with no intermission. Photos and autographs with the cast after each performance. Please see https://chancetheater.com/ for ticket availability. This show is highly recommended.
Arts & Entertainment Reviewer
The Show Report
Photo Credit: Doug Catiller, True Image Studio