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Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2012

First Stage's Whirlwind 'Wrinkle in Time'

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First Stage Children's Theater offers an appropriately whirlwind experience during its production of Madeleine L'Engle's novel A Wrinkle in Time. This fast-paced play is, after all, about space and time travel. It was written 50 years ago, in an era when Americans collectively held their breath during the Space Race of the 1960s.

The book, adapted by John Glore and directed by Mark Metcalf, is still relevant for expanding young imaginations. It's filled with characters that will always be familiar, such as a moody teen (Meg Murray), her prescient little brother (Charles Wallace) and an athlete (Calvin) who comes along for the ride of his life. Meg and Calvin are at the age where they feel the pain of being misunderstood outsiders. Yet L'Engle convincingly makes the point that their differences are necessary to accomplish a dangerous space mission.

In attempting to weave in all the various aspects of L'Engle's book, which include mathematical equations and adults who morph into angels and oddly shaped beasts, the play sometimes loses its young audience. However, kids are quickly drawn back in by the production's emphasis on this trio of capable children who fight a battle between good and evil. During their journey, the children must rely on three strangers: Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who and Mrs. Which. The audience-pleasing Matt Daniels earns the biggest laughs as the slightly crazed, oddly dressed Mrs. Whatsit. His voice and mannerisms are a treat to watch. Mrs. Which, represented by a pinpoint of flickering light, is voiced by Aaron Christensen, who also plays the father in the story. Erica Elam is also double-cast as the mother and Mrs. Who. Marcella Kearns ably accomplishes the difficult task of appearing in the play (as Aunt Beast) and performing the sound effects, which are located on one side of the stage. Older audience members may recall that some of these effects date back to the days of early radio shows.

Children in First Stage productions appear in rotating casts. Opening night featured Erin Stapleton and Nathan Kluge as Meg and Calvin and James Mullooly as Charles Wallace. A few younger children also appeared in mostly non-speaking roles.

First Stage typically does an excellent job with its dazzling special effects. In Wrinkle, the stage is dominated by a domed jungle gym. With strobe lights and sound effects, the jungle gym is transformed into various environments. The most impressive transformation is undoubtedly a giant, pulsating brain called It. Meg and company must find a way to defeat It in order to accomplish their mission.

A Wrinkle in Time
continues through Feb. 19 in the Marcus Center's Todd Wehr Theater. For ticket information, call 414-273-7206.