Chicago Theatre Review
It Was a Dark and Stormy Night…
A Wrinkle in Time – Lifeline Theatre
Specializing in presenting exciting dramatic adaptations of notable literature for all ages, or “Big Stories, Up Close,” this is one of the many marvelous productions that put Chicago’s Lifeline Theatre on the map. Adapted by Jeff Award-winning playwright James Sie, this newly-revised version of the play that Sie wrote twenty-six years ago, is based upon the much-loved 1963 Newbery Award-winner. This science fiction/fantasy for young adults was written by author Madeleine L’Engle. The book is considered a classic and has inspired an opera, two films (including a new Disney version rumored to open next year), as well as several other theatrical adaptations.
In this new production, directed with imagination and vivacity by ensemble member Elise Kauzlaric, the play opens in the same manner as L’Engle’s story. “It was a dark and stormy night” when 13-year-old Meg Murray is awakened by the tempest of wind, thunder and lightning crashing around her home. She’s not only worried that their century-old farmhouse might not weather the storm, Meg’s understandably tormented by the mysterious disappearance of her father, Dr. Alex Murray, a renowned physicist. Not even the government knows his whereabouts, but he vanished after
researching the continuum of time and space in a means of interplanetary travel via something called “the tesseract.” Frustrated by her scientist mother’s seeming lack of concern about her husband’s safety and a school filled with insensitive teachers and students, Meg suddenly finds herself joining forces with her new friend, Calvin, and her sweet, gifted younger brother named Charles Wallace to rescue Dr. Murray from the menacing Black Thing.
A dozen cast members, some portraying several different roles, recreate L’Engle’s stirring story of the battle between good versus evil. Meg Murray is played with spunk and trepidation by Jamie Cahill. In her quest to save her father she’s aided by her wise-beyond-his-years little brother Charles Wallace, played on opening night by a magnificent young actor named Trent Davis (Davu Smith plays this role at certain other performances). This talented little guy is sharp, funny and capable of holding the audience in the palm of his hand throughout this two-hour play. Calvin O’Keefe, Meg’s new, teenage buddy, is enthusiastically played by Glenn Obrero. Meg’s parents are nicely portrayed by Vahishta Vafadari and Michael McKeogh, while bully teenager Chris Henderson, and several other ensemble roles, are played with skill by James Romney.
Several alien characters either help or challenge the children in their quest. Mrs. Whatsit, the youngest of three supernatural ladies, whose lives have spanned centuries and galaxies, is played with humor and intelligence by Madeline Pell. The bespectacled Mrs. Who, who can only communicate through quotations by brilliant minds like Shakespeare, Dante, Goethe, Cervantes, and others, is played with swagger and a touch of arrogance by Javier Ferreira. Providing the necessary clues for the children to rescue both Dr. Murray and Charles Wallace is Mrs. Which. She’s played with ardor and authority by Carmen Molina. The jovial Happy Medium, portrayed with comic finesse by Marsha Harman, helps the kids see The Black Thing through her crystal ball and ultimately understand the force they’ll be up against during their intergalactic rescue mission. Naima Hebrail Kidjo turns into the menacing Person With Red Eyes, through whom the malevolent It communicates.
While some of the minor characters and plot elements of Madeleine L’Engle’s young adult science fiction/fantasy have wisely been eliminated, James Sie’s ambitious and exciting adaptation provides enough of the book to dramatize this tale of good versus evil. This latest offering by the prestigious Lifeline Theatre is another example of why their productions not only entertain audiences of all ages, but continue to inspire reading and the enjoyment of books. Enhanced by a versatile, futuristic setting by co-scenic designers Alan Donahue and Andrew Hildner, lit with imagination by Kevin D. Gawley and flavored by Eric Backus’ original music and sound design, younger theatergoers will be on the edge of their seats as this exhilarating saga unfolds before their eyes. A dark and stormy night has never seemed so scary, yet promised such an exciting story of love and hope.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented February 17-April 9 at Lifeline Theatre, 6912 N. Glenwood Ave., Chicago.
Tickets are available by calling the box office at 773-761-4477 or by going to www.lifelinetheatre.com.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.