The setup: The only 20th-century book for young readers that's sold more copies than Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time is Charlotte's Web. Childsplay's current production of John Glore's stage version of Wrinkle is a great introduction to L'Engle's Time Quartet/Quintet/Murry-O'Keefe series for those who might not have read the book yet. It's also been hailed by existing fans as a faithful, respectful staging of the classic -- so bring them, too.
See also: - Jane Austen's Emma from Arizona Theatre Company Is Both Loyal and Funny - The Great Gatsby: A Sad Play About Horrible People - The Borrowers from Childsplay: Cuteness and Fantasy with Just a Little Fun Violence
The execution: When you're hopping time and space on stage, with everything played by a cast of six, the design components of your production can be very helpful. Aaron Jackson's set, Michael J. Eddy's lighting, Christopher Neumeyer's fun, creepy music and sounds, and Rebecca Akins' wide-ranging costumes have it nailed, inspiring lots of "oohs" and "ahs" from audience members of all ages. You may find the dialogue a little hard to follow in the noise of the initial "dark and stormy night" scene, but it certainly sets the off-kilter mood, and everything's perfect after that.
Huge translucent panels slide around at different depths on the stage, stars spark and dim in the background, and everything from the Murrys' bag of Wonder Bread to the dizzying-yet-practical omnivator in Camazotz's CENTRAL Central Intelligence building is just as it ought to be. Akins is able to make anything and anybody cuddly, which she does when appropriate here, but her Man with Red Eyes creeped us all out big-time. As he should.
Not everything and everybody from the book is represented in Glore's script, but that kind of compression is almost always necessary, and as far as I can tell, the important points are hit and, even better, arranged in a compelling dramatic structure. Naturally, I would have liked to see a herd of unicorns, but the one in my mind is probably even cooler.
The cast is outstanding. When Childsplay's adult actors play children and teenagers, they approach them with sensitivity and psychological truth, creating individuals we can instantly accept and relate to, diverse as they are.
One of the best things about A Wrinkle in Time is its strong and realistic female protagonist, Meg Murry, and the other fascinating and important characters who are also women. These examples/role models weren't all that common in 1962, and they're still very welcome when we find them now. Rebecca Duckworth, who, as Meg, carries the entire play, does a great job displaying the volatile adolescent mix of competence, confusion, and insecurity.
Yolanda London, who also plays Mrs. Murry, is masterful in her portrayal of Mrs. Who, drawing laughs with just about every one of her seemingly random utterances. Cullen Law makes Meg's little brother Charles Wallace as simultaneously weird, brilliant, and loving as his family knows he is.
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It feels sort of sudden and goopy when Meg and Calvin start crushing on each other, but it's the first sign of a big cosmic synchronicity that will help save the world, so just blush and say "ew" and get on with your life. (Technically, the play is based on a young adult novel -- if you wish, you can evaluate the reading level in this excerpt.)
The verdict: This A Wrinkle in Time shares important lessons without being too heavy-handed, and it's creative, well-produced and super-entertaining to boot. It's a good sign when a two-act play ends and you're sorry and want it to go on. I'd like Glore to adapt all the rest of the books -- right now, please -- and Childsplay to perform them. You guys aren't busy this summer, right?
A Wrinkle in Time continues through Sunday, May 26, at Tempe Center for the Arts, 700 West Rio Salado Parkway. Tickets are $12 to $25; purchase them here or call 480-350-2822.