“A Wrinkle in Time” is not a children’s show as such, but it’s superb family entertainment. That’s because it takes both the source material and its audience very seriously indeed. A stellar cast directed by Katie Strock held a capacity crowd spellbound Friday evening at Cyrano’s.
Madeleine L’Engle’s classic science-fiction/fantasy novel assumed that some young readers were starved for intelligent reading and for a plotline that stretched their imaginations and tweaked their worldviews. Or, in this case, their otherwordly views: The story stretches across time and space as the fierce Meg Murry (Cena Moody), her brilliant younger brother Charles Wallace (SB Baird) and stalwart but sometimes fearful friend Calvin (Tai Yen Kim) battle a dark force known as “IT.”
They’re on a quest to rescue her father (James Jensen), who disappeared while on a top-secret scientific mission. With help from a trio of weird sisters named Mrs Whatsit (Jane Baird), Mrs Who (Gigi Lynch) and Mrs Which (a spot of light), the three young people struggle against IT’s attempt to destroy the universe by way of conformity (with death to those who resist).
Plenty of kids have felt alienated, especially during adolescence. “Wrinkle” asks why anyone would want to be the same as everyone else. At one point Mrs Whatsit (Jane Baird) congratulates Charles Wallace’s mother (Gigi Lynch) for not trying “to straighten him out and make him normal.”
Yet it’s hard to deny the pull to be part of a group mind. Rather than stand out as a genius Charles Wallace cultivates a “slow” persona by refusing to talk around other kids. Calvin, who’s also brilliant, uses a big-man-on-campus attitude to keep from being labeled a social misfit.
Meg will have none of it: She fights everyone from a bully who insults her brother to the school principal who tries to psychoanalyze her behavior. At one point she even shoves her own father, enraged at what she perceives as spinelessness.
While the six-person cast is across-the-board excellent, special mention must go to those who portray the three young protagonists. All appear to be in their late teens or early 20s yet they’re utterly convincing playing characters aged 5, 14 and 16. The three have the simmering energy and innocent impatience of children who can’t – or won’t – give up on the ideas of right and wrong, fair and unfair.
Special props go to SB Baird for her eerie laughter and creepy prancing once Charles Wallace becomes possessed by the evil force. Baird’s performance is truly unsettling, sending chills up my spine and causing my two young guests to shift uneasily in their seats.
Notice should also be paid to Jane Baird, who imbues the loopy Mrs Whatsit with a gentleness of spirit and an implacable refusal to sugarcoat the truth, which is that good might not be able to vanquish evil.
Indra Arriaga's set is basic black with scientific formulas painted here and there; at times a pleasing pattern of stars is projected onto the ceiling. At times some of the actors become narrators who read openly from L’Engle’s book, a Greek-chorus technique that encourages audience members to see what cannot be seen (time travel, say, or the homogenous community on the planet Camazotz).
Forget the namby-pamby parables that make up far too much of children’s “literature.” Our kids deserve stories that let them be both fearful and brave in equal measure. The world is not an easy place to live, and shows like “A Wrinkle in Time” are a fine antidote to tidily packaged treacle.
Note to parents: The show might be too intense and/or talky for children under age 6. I’d suggest seeing it by yourself and then deciding whether your kids are up for it. You won’t mind seeing it a second time. It really is that good.(A former Daily News reporter and theater reviewer, Donna Freedman writes at DonnaFreedman.com and MoneyTalksNews.com.)
A WRINKLE IN TIME continues through Dec. 22 at Cyrano’s, 413 D St. Show times are 7 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $20, $18 for students, seniors and military personnel, available at CarrsTix (263-ARTS or 877-ARTS-TIX outside Anchorage).