Thursday, March 28, 2013
Theater review: Fight aliens and get lost in space in A Wrinkle in Time
Will they make it out alive?
DALLAS Dallas Children's Theater is celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Madeleine L'Engle's Newbery Medal winning sci-fi novel, A Wrinkle in Time, with a wonderful presentation of the stage adaptation of the story. The story revolves around three teenagers — Meg Murry, younger brother Charles Wallace Murry, and Calvin O'Keefe — being thrust into a whirlwind adventure through space and time to rescue Meg and Charles' father from the sinister IT. Framed by exceptional visual effects, all six actors in the show turn in great, although at times overwrought, performances.
The absolute stand-out features of the show are the video effects designed by Jeff Franks. Walking into the Baker Theater, the audience should first take notice of the strobe effects and fog use warning posted at the entrance because they are not announced pre-show nor listed in the program. Epileptics and those suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder should beware. In the theater, a scrim across the stage bubbles with numbers and mathematical symbols throughout the pre-show. Then, as the show begins “on a dark and stormy night,” projected rain falls across the back of the stage in a very realistic, effective manner. More designers should look into this effect for presenting rain in a performance. Later in the show, as the adolescents are transported across space, strobe effects and a video package on the back wall combine in an effect almost as great as the opening credits of Doctor Who. Finally, the foreboding planet of Camazotz is well represented by dark projections of towering building and eerily identical houses and bouncing balls. All scenes in which these effects are used are enhanced by their inclusion.
Franks' set design is stark and easily manipulated into several, vastly different scenes. The stage itself is black with a white grid laid out upon it that warps and twists as it nears the back wall, further expressing the theme of mathematics. Also, there are six luminous towers scattered across the stage which alternates from the frame of a house to a forest, with the aid of some branches lowered from above the stage, to the ominous throne room of IT. This is not the cartoony set design one might expect in a show intended for children and Jeff Franks should be applauded for making these bold choices.
The sound design by Marco Salinas also amplifies the level of creepiness throughout the show with well-designed synchronous ball bouncing as the teenagers arrive on Camazotz, and a menacing low hum that permeates the scenes on the desolate planet. Helpful aliens like Aunt Beast, a large tentacled creature, and Mrs. Which, who appears as a globe of glowing light, are portrayed with modulated voices that are well controlled and give their characters an extra element of other worldliness.
Linda Blase's lighting design perfectly complements Jeff Frank's visual design with scene-appropriate colors and definitive acting areas. Generally, the stage is more dimly lit in A Wrinkle in Time than most other shows, especially for children's theater. This adds to the anxiety throughout the performance. Soft white light highlights the safety of home while a dingy orange-yellow color depresses the mood on Comazotz, and an alarming red heightens the tension of IT's throne room. Most impressive, though, is the definition of the “Omnivator” acting space with only a light on the floor.
Costumes (Designed by Lyle Huchton) for A Wrinkle in Time are pretty simple. The kid's costumes are standard jeans and polo shirt or some variation of a patterned oxford. Most impressive is Aunt Beast, an alien created with layers of green and brown fabrics hiding Emily Ford underneath. Ford, already a beautifully tall woman, wears a veiled hat to make Aunt Beast's body appear nearly seven feet tall, while the alien's face is on an arm-like protrusion. The costume is a reminder of older alien designs, like those found in classic Doctor Who and Star Trek episodes.
With only six actors, and one of those only playing a single character throughout the show, A Wrinkle in Time relies on each actor to take on multiple roles. Emily Ford as Meg and Charles Wallace's mother, Mrs. Who, and Aunt Beast, and Sam Swanson as Mr. Murry, Man with Red Eyes, and Mrs. Which, take on the brunt of the work, quickly changing characters and costumes. Both excel at ensuring each character is an individual with no elements from other characters infecting the performance of another.
Cameron McElyea as Mrs. Whatsit is delightfully eccentric. As the children's guide and mentor through the new and strange planets and modes of transportation, McElyea shines with kindness in an off-kilter but lovable style.
Zak Reynolds is adequate as Calvin O'Keefe, the popular kid with too many siblings and an attraction to Meg. He's believable in his part and shines when he is given a “cowardly lion” routine as the group steps on to Comazotz.
Brandon Wilhelm plays the odd ball little brother, Charles Wallace Murry. He is excellent in the part, eliciting laughs from the audience with the character's goofy nature, and being supremely creepy as he succumbs to IT's will.
The heroine of A Wrinkle in Time, Meg Murry, is played by Steph Garrett. She rides the emotional roller coaster of the part well, playing the awkward teenage girl with ease. However, Artie Olaisen asks too much of her in the play's climax. Her performance reaches ridiculous emotional levels, dragging the audience out of what, otherwise, is a fine scene.
Overall, A Wrinkle in Time is a great piece of theater with visual effects that need to be seen, studied, and copied by more theaters in the area. The acting is top notch, as is expected from Dallas Children's Theater. It's a shame only five more performances remain for this stellar show. Book your tickets soon.
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