Sunday, Jan. 29, 2012

The Sounds Of Time

First Stage Harnesses imagination with A WRINKLE IN TIME

By Russ Bickerstaff
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Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle In Time has been a favorite of many precocious kids growing up. My wife was one of them . . . very excited about the new First Stage adaptation of the book that opened this past weekend. I saw it as an opportunity to hook-up with my wife a bit more, seeing a part of her childhood make it to the stage of the Todd Wehr Theatre. I was a bit of a stranger to A Wrinkle In TIme. . .  but the science fantasy classic had much in it that reminded me of more accomplished works by othe sci-fi authors. I was able to spot a little Frank Herbert here, a little James Gunn there. A dash of Bradbury. Vague hues of . . . well . .  .a lot of others. L’Engle was evidently terribly good at fusing together a lot of science fantasy elements in a format that would appeal to young readers.

Aside from obsessively picking apart the story, I had a great deal of fun with the production, and not just because it was a pleasant afternoon out with my wife. On walking into the theatre, audiences are occasionally welcomed by Marcella Kearns, who theatrically readies a rather large sound effects array that has been developed for the production by Wisconsin Hybrid Theatre’s Charles Sommers. Real love went into the foleying equipment and Kearns is clearly having a lot of fun with it. In addition to providing sound effects, Kearns handels some of the narration and plays a supporting character. (Pay no attention to the non-Equity actor behind the curtain . . . )

Other notable performances by adult actors include a particularly striking Matt Daniels Mrs. Whatsit and the Man With Red Eyes. Daniels can travel pretty fluidly between drama and comedy and he does so here quite admirably. Aaron Christenson plays a heroic male lost father lead to Erica Elam’s sweetly maternal role.

With so much playing out in the realm of sheer fantasy in this story, a theatrical adaptation can choose to go in many directions bringing the book to life. The genius of this one is that it taps into the imagination almost exclusively through sound effect and description. What worked so well in old sci-fi radio anthologies like X Minus One and Quiet Please is resurrected for the live stage in a rich kind of depth.

We had the pleasure of seeing the “Space Cast” of young performers which alternate with a corresponding “Time Cast.”  Erin Stapleton plays the young female lead in the Space Cast . .  . as Meg she’s a cleverly resilient here—holding up her end of the story brilliantly. James Mullooly holds an admirable intellectual fearlessness as Charles Wallace. Nathan Kluge has a really firm grasp of adventure drama in his role as Meg’s friend Calvin.

First Stage’s production of A Wrinkle In Time runs through February 19th at the Marcus Center’s Todd Wehr Theatre. For ticket reservations, call 414-273-7206 or visit First Stage Online.

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