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From the left: Jamie Mac as Father, Celeste Catena as Meg Murry and Robert Markus as Calvin O’Keefe in A Wrinkle in Time at the Stratford Festival.Handout

  • Title: A Wrinkle in Time
  • Based on the book by: Madeleine L’Engle
  • Adapted and directed by: Thomas Morgan Jones
  • Actors: Celeste Catena, Noah Beemer, Robert Markus
  • Company: Stratford Festival
  • Venue: Avon Theatre
  • City: Stratford, Ont.
  • Year: Runs to October 29, 2023

A Wrinkle in Time, now on at the Stratford Festival, is a fun, fast-paced flip through the main plot points of Madeleine L’Engle’s beloved 1962 novel for young readers of the same name.

That classic fantasy/sci-fi story concerns a pair of children searching for their missing father through space-time, and begins with a line borrowed, with a wink, from Edward Bulwer-Lytton: “It was a dark and stormy night.”

This new stage adaptation, written and directed by Prairie Theatre Exchange artistic director Thomas Morgan Jones, also begins on just such a night.

Meg Murray (Celeste Catena) is tossing and turning in her bed and dreaming about her dad (Jamie Mac).

Unable to get back to sleep, Meg heads downstairs for a snack, only to find her bright and unusual younger brother, Charles Wallace Murry (Noah Beemer), already making one for her.

Their mother (Beck Lloyd) soon joins them, too, for a kitchen confidential about the difficulties that Meg has been having at school and with her peers as she struggles to come to terms with the disappearance of her dad.

But the Murry family’s conversation is soon interrupted by a late-night visit from a colourfully dressed, eccentric woman who lives in a nearby house reputed to be haunted.

Mrs. Whatsit (Nestor Lozano Jr) – cue a little Abbott and Costello-esque banter as the characters try to nail down that name – seems to know quite a bit about the family’s problems. She promises impending solutions to them, before then leaving as abruptly as she arrived with the mysterious sign-off: “By the way, there is such a thing as a tesseract.”

In the world of A Wrinkle in Time, and its various sequels, a tesseract has something to do with folding space-time in order to travel from now to then and here to there in an instant.

Meg and Charles Wallace soon learn how to “tesser” from Mrs. Whatsit and her two weird sisters Mrs. Who (Khadijah Roberts-Abdullah) and Mrs. Which (Kim Horsman), who fight evil in the form of a dark shadow over the universe by this means of teleportation. This involves – on stage anyway – putting a hand in front of them and then moving it up slowly as if putting on an invisible rubber glove to do the dishes.

As the actors make this motion, behind them, designer Teresa Przybylski’s set – a pair of two oddly shaped white pillars that seem like something out of a geometry problem – rotates and is covered with psychedelic projections designed by jaymez, an artist who goes by the lower-case mononym alone.

Music composed by sound designer Deanna H. Choi adds even more of a trippy 1970s sci-fi vibe to the proceedings.

And so, Meg and Charles Wallace “tesser” around from planet to planet searching for their father – who, it turns out, has been trapped on one run by an authoritarian consciousness known as It. Meg will need to marshal all her qualities and especially her flaws – her unabashed individuality, that is – to release him from Twitter’s grasp … sorry, I mean, It’s grasp.

The two siblings are joined on this journey by a sporty boy named Calvin, whose reason for being there is never really clearly explained in this adaptation (and maybe not in the book either), but who is played with more than enough charm by musical-theatre star Robert Markus to make up for his lack of backstory.

Along the way, these three young protagonists meet strange creatures such as the Happy Medium (Erica Peck), a planet-carrying pain in the posterior; and Aunt Beast, a monster with healing powers who looks like a cousin of Snuffleupagus. (The costumes designed by Robin Fisher are spiffy – and, when necessary, a little scary).

As both writer and director of this adaptation, Jones seems to have taken the book’s central idea of time as something you can fold like a skirt as inspiration. He elicits spiky performances from his cast – featuring jerky movements and staccato line readings – that give the production the feeling that it is constantly jumping forward. It reminded me of reading a graphic novel.

It’s great to see a show where a stylized approach to acting is so uniformly achieved – the one exception being Horsman as Mrs. Whatsit, who seems a bit stuck in a classical-theatre roar.

After complaining that last year’s three-hour adaptation of Little Women was too long, it would be highly irritating of me to then turn around and say that this year’s show in the slot that Stratford calls its Schulich Children’s Plays is a bit short at just one hour and 35 minutes (including a 20-minute intermission).

And so I won’t. A Wrinkle in Time is a much superior family offering. And if, ultimately, the end result is that kids leave wanting to find out more about the Murrys and their fantastic friends and tesser their way to a library, all the better.

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