PROVO — My memories of Madeline L’Engle’s novel A Wrinkle in Time are inseparably connected to that period in my life when I discovered the magic of the written word. I recall the story of Meg Murry resonating deeply in my young heart, and her wild adventures with her little brother Charles Wallace and friend Calvin inspired me to read more and to create my own adventures–whether on paper or simply in my imagination. Brigham Young University’s Theatre and Media Arts Department embarked on an adventure of their own to adopt this beloved story to the stage. The play was created in collaboration between director Roger Sorensen, various designers, a dedicated cast of 12, writers, dramaturgs, and more.
In the story, Meg Murry feels constantly out of place. Her teachers don’t understand her, her principal won’t listen, her father is missing, and she can’t relate to her popular brothers or brilliant, beautiful mother. Only her 5-year-old brother Charles Wallace seems to get her. One night an odd woman appears at the Murry’s back door, speaks to Charles Wallace like an old friend, and tells Mrs. Murry that tesseracts (a concept thoroughly explained in the play) are real. Meg soon discovers a lot more going on in the universe than she was aware of—although her missing father had been in the thick of things for some time.
The BYU team approached this story with an aim to capture the wild imagination of a child, complete with toy-like props and costumes that seemed as if they were created from items found in an old dress up box. As the audience entered the theatre, they were met with a somewhat chaotic stage: full of actors and children playing and doing science projects. I should note, also, that the production used BYU’s de Jong space in a way I’ve never seen. Instead of the audience sitting in the 1,268 auditorium seats, the audience was told to find a seat on the stage. Chairs were set up along the edge of the wide stage while the action happened in the center. The de Jong Concert Hall is BYU’s largest theatrical venue and where they host graduations, operas, dance recitals, and most of the university bands, choirs, and orchestral groups. Thus the stage is a large one (94 feet across and 57 feet deep), with plenty of room for a large audience (anywhere between 100 and 300 seats), a full set, and a cast and ensemble of seventeen.
I loved the way they used the stage. As one who attended BYU and felt that many of the spaces were used in the same ways time and again, it was thrilling to feel like I was in a whole new venue where just about anything could happen. There were definitely moments that surprised me, as well as moments when I would have loved a bit more creativity from the design team. For example, I loved the way the auditorium was used as a backdrop for the action, whether it was by lighting it a certain way, draping huge pieces of fabric across it, or casting shadows over the hundreds of empty seats. At one point in the story, the characters were meant to be flying through space, and the way the auditorium was lit absolutely took my breath away.
On the other hand, while the more abstract moments were handled wonderfully by designers, some simpler times seemed to be hastily thrown together. The lighting in particular was lacking throughout much of the exposition; I was never quite able to focus on the main piece of action when the entire stage was lit. I’m not sure if this was a safety precaution or a weakness of the stage setup or a stylistic choice, but I personally was hoping that the light would play a stronger part in the storytelling, that it would guide my eye to the spot and character I should focus on. With twelve cast members and five ensemble constantly on stage, much of the time felt very chaotic and sloppy. A few additional, careful lighting choices could have done wonders.
The cast, in general, was solid in their performances. Lindsay Clark played young Meg Murry, and although I loved her interpretation of the insecure-yet-eloquent Meg, the ages of most of the characters was never really clear, through fault only of their relative heights and looks. Five-year-old Charles Wallace was played by Adam White, who was clearly a college student and taller than Clark. He did a wonderful job portraying a brilliant, confident boy, but I often forgot he was supposed to be much younger than Meg and practically a toddler. Perhaps it was a creative choice that it didn’t matter what age Charles Wallace was perceived as. Jasmine Fullmer played various characters including Mrs. Murry, the Happy Medium, and others. I enjoyed her confidence in each new character. Jenna Hawkins played the widest variety of characters, as both “sidekick” Mrs. Which and evil Man with Red Eyes, as well as others, and did so with great polarity. She was the hardest to pick out as she switched personas. The time and place was designated in the program as the 1950’s, “before, after, and throughout,” and in “several locations around the universe, including Earth (Connecticut), a flat planet, the planet of the Happy Medium,” etc., but a sense of location wasn’t usually apparent from the cast, specifically regarding the time and place while they were “on” Earth.
I enjoyed the interpretation of a favorite novel, although the second half felt a little long. I’m sure the show will tighten up as the run continues. On the whole, I commend BYU for creating a more daring show than they usually mount. While there were plenty of aspects I didn’t feel had been developed to a finished point, I found myself thoroughly engaged throughout the entire show, excited to see how a scene would be performed and how (and if!) these beloved characters would make it home at the end of the evening.
A Wrinkle in Time is a show for all ages, from young children to young adults to the young at heart. Go see the show, and then sound off in the comments what you thought!