From Chicago Theatre Review
It Was a Dark and Stormy Night…
March 2, 2017
By Colin Douglas
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.
Making the Galaxy Great Again
March 3, 2017
By Hugh Iglarsh
Lifeline loops back in time with this “Wrinkle,” which the company first mounted way back in 1990. It’s disturbingly clear why they’re reviving James Sie’s faithful, absorbing adaptation of Madeleine L’Engle’s 1963 Newbery Medal-winning science fiction novel. Her classic tale of encroaching darkness and the need to take sides in the struggle against it could have been written yesterday.
“Wrinkle” blends the religion-tinged moralism of C.S. Lewis’ “Chronicles of Narnia” with Cold War anxieties about technology and social control. These are embodied in the CENTRAL Central Intelligence agency on Camazotz, a blandly evil, planet-scale Levittown where every child skips rope to the same beat. Pitted against the creepy conformity are the oddball young siblings Meg and Charles Wallace Murry and their outwardly more conventional friend, Calvin O’Keefe. Their goal is to rescue Meg and Charles Wallace’s father—a government physicist whose space-warping experiments have landed him in extraterrestrial prison—and to combat a nameless, shadowy enemy that threatens to blot out the stars, suck the love and joy out of existence and presumably make America great again.
Along the way, viewers of all ages meet the fussy but kindhearted Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who and Mrs. Which, three updated Weird Sisters who support the heroes in their epic quest. We also learn about tesseracts, fifth-dimensional shortcuts that make traversing the galaxy as easy as crossing the street. Among the tale’s myriad mind-blowing places and creatures are some evergreen lessons, e.g., that one’s perceived flaws may be hidden strengths and that liberation is “a most exhilarating experience.”
As is this show, thanks to the taut, energized direction of Elise Kauzlaric; the sets of Alan Donahue and Andrew Hildner, whose scrims and projections turn the small stage into a panoply of exotic worlds; and the costumes of Izumi Inaba, which range from gray flannel suit uniformity to spectacular angelic and demonic manifestations. Not all the performances quite hit the mark (Jamie Cahill could profitably turn it down a notch or two as Meg) but overall this is a tight and well-balanced ensemble, which nails the novel’s tone of cosmic melodrama. Naïma Hebrail Kidjo shines darkly as the contemptuously superior spokes-alien for Camazotz’s deranged, torture-loving maximum leader. Good thing regimes like that exist only on other planets.
From Around the Town Chicago
March 7, 2017
By Carol Moore
The biggest problem with adapting a classic book like “A Wrinkle in Time” is that people have actually read the book – so they know what should/must be included. I think I read “A Wrinkle in Time” for the first time when I was about ten, so I had expectations. I’m happy to say that Lifeline Theatre’s family friendly production of “A Wrinkle in Time” hit every marker. Fantastical, colorful, a little bit scary, heart-warming, and I loved it!
Lifeline Theatre, a small (99 seats) venue in Rogers Park, is one of my favorite places. If you’ve never been there, you’re missing something really special. They’re unique because every play they do – for adults and for children – is their own literary adaptation.
Over the years, I’ve seen adaptations of many of my favorite books at Lifeline. Historical swashbucklers: “The Three Musketeers” and “The Count of Monte Cristo”; Dickens’ “A Tale of Two Cities”; Charlotte Brontë’s “Jane Eyre”; Emily Brontë’s “Wuthering Heights”; Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” and “Northanger Abbey”.
They’ve also done adaptations of Dorothy L. Sayres’ Lord Peter Whimsey mysteries, and a brilliant twist on the Sherlock Holmes legend, “Miss Holmes”. Recently, they’ve adapted young adult novels like Amy Timberlake’s historical, “One Came Home”; and “Monstrous Regiment”, set in Terry Pratchett’s Disc World; Austin Grossman’s comic-book style, “Soon I Will Be Invincible”; and my favorite, Neil Gaiman’s fantasy set in London Below, “Neverwhere”.
“A Wrinkle in Time” is a delightful fantastical adventure story about a girl named Meg Murry (Jamie Cahill), her uncanny little brother Charles Wallace (Davu Smith or Trent Davis) and their friend, Calvin O’Keefe (Glenn Obrero).
Meg is a misfit who doesn’t have any friends. She’s very smart, but doesn’t do well in school. People think Charles Wallace isn’t all there. Their father has been missing for more than a year and people tell her Mother (Vahishta Vafadari) to move on.
The story starts with that infamous quote, “It was a dark and stormy night.” A hurricane is raging outside, and Meg is afraid her attic bedroom will blow away. When she goes downstairs, she finds Charles sitting in the kitchen drinking cocoa. When Mother comes into the kitchen, Charles’ new friend, Mrs. Whatsit (Madeline Pell), wearing a cloak made out of multiple sweaters, joins them in the kitchen.
Mrs. Whatsit and her friends, Mrs. Who (Javier Ferreira) and Mrs. Which (Carmen Molina), tell the children of a great and evil darkness. They take the children to a planet called Uriel to see the “Happy Medium (Marsha Harmon) who shows them Earth partly covered by a dark cloud.
Then they take the children to Camazotz, where their father is imprisoned. Everyone Camazotz does exactly the same thing at exactly the same time – even the children bounce balls or jump rope in sync. Central Intelligence, which turns out to be an evil brain with Red Eyes (Naima Hebrail Kidjo), controlling everyone on the planet.
The upper half of Lifeline’s stage area is covered by a large random-shaped grid. There are two platforms behind the grid where Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, Mrs. Which and Red Eyes stand. Different sized crates and a few boulders become everything from a table and chairs to stumps in the forest and mountains on another planet.
The children on are on stage for the entire story. Everyone else is part of the black-clad Ensemble when they aren’t playing a specific part. The Ensemble become whatever is needed to move the story – for example, when the children are ‘tessered’, they pick them up and ‘toss’ them through space.
Kudos to Costume Designer, Izumi Inaba, for bringing the book’s descriptions to life. Mrs. Whatsit needs to transform, the Ensemble peels off her cloak made of multiple sweaters revealing an entirely different creature. Off earth, Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who and Mrs. Which wear brightly colored robes, trimmed with gold braid, and funky hats. The people on Camazotz all wear shades of black, white and gray. Red Eyes, the evil brain, wears all white with a vaguely brain-like. red light-up headdress. On another planet, the sightless, faceless creatures are white, shapeless shroud with two or three people inside. One large ‘monster’ which heals Meg she calls “Aunt Beast’.
From Time Out Chicago
Lifeline delivers a thrilling adaptation of Madeleine L’Engle’s beloved YA fantasy
March 3, 2017
By Alex Huntsberger
Actress Jamie Cahill burns with the fury of an exploding star in James Sie’s newly revised 1989 adaptation of Madeleine L’Engle’s classic novel, A Wrinkle in Time. She plays Meg Murry, a young girl with a stubbornness matched only by her temper, who gets tasked by a group of interdimensional beings with rescuing her scientist father (Michael McKeough, worth saving) from a distant planet, Camazotz, that’s under the sway of a great and pervasive evil. Meg is stubborn and quick-tempered to a fault—so much so that these “faults” of hers end up becoming her greatest strength. With Cahill’s performance, you intuitively understand that, more often than not, this is what a hero looks like—angry, rebellious and always ready to fight.
Meg is roped into the mission by her genius (and possibly psychic) younger brother, Charles Wallace (Trent Davis, who alternates the role with Davu Smith), after he befriends the eccentric Mrs. Whatsit (Madeline Pell, great), her quote-spouting friend, Mrs. Who (Javier Ferreira, also great) and the somewhat invisible Mrs. Which (Carmen Molina, completing the trifecta of greatness). Along with Calvin O’Keefe (Glenn Obrero), a popular boy from her school, Meg and Charles Wallace end up as warriors in a great cosmic battle against “The Darkness” — a battle that Mrs. Whatsit, Who and Which — the aforementioned interdimensional beings — have been fighting for many millennia. The cast is unfussily and wonderfully diverse, a welcome sight for a story that screams “universality.”
For the most part, Director Elise Kauzlaric wrangles the story’s fast-moving plot into place and brings its many alien locales to life. An ensemble of black-clad Noh-style performers provide many real-life special effects, which blend well with the visual touches of lighting designer Kevin D. Gawley, costume designer Izumi Inaba, and sound and music designer Eric Backus. The backdrop of the set is a curving plane that instantly captures A Wrinkle in Time’s exhilarating mix of science, religion and fantasy — even if some of the staging that occurs behind it gets lost. The show gets off to a rough start, though, as the actors blow through the play’s early scenes. It’s as though the production is trying to get to all the cool, sci-fi fantasy stuff as quickly as possible. Yet the true pleasures in L’Engle’s story lie in the tight bonds between her characters; the fantasy stuff is nice, but it’s not what has kept generations of kids coming back.
From Buzz News Chicago
Lifeline Breathes Magical Life into Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle In Time
March 1, 2017
By Ken Payne
Lifeline Theatre is currently bringing to life the 1963 Madeleine L’Engle award-winning, sci-fi novel for young adults, A Wrinkle in Time. It is the first in a series of five books that follow the escapades of Meg Murry, a thirteen-year-old student whom her teachers see as stubborn and difficult. The story follows Meg’s adventure as she and her younger brother, Charles Wallace (a prodigy child genius), search through space and time for their missing scientist father who has vanished after working on a mysterious project called a tesseract. It is during this pursuit that Meg and Charles Wallace, along with along with school friend, Calvin O’Keefe, run into a myriad of characters that get stranger and stranger along the way.
Before long they find out their true enemy is a bodiless brain called IT, who controls the planet Camazotz and communicates through The Man with Red Eyes. IT’s mission is to robotize everyone by removing their free will. At the same time, another evil force lurks throughout the universe that is only known as The Black Thing. A tall order for the trio of children to conquer on their own, help comes to them in the form of the three Mrs. W’s – Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who and Mrs. Which – each of whom offers a special power, or insight, in their fight to save their father. It is an exploit where the impossible becomes possible and courage and love proves to be the strongest force of all.
Lifeline brought this classic story to the stage first in 1990 based on the adaptation of James Sie. It returned in 1998 and is back today, nineteen years later. Probably not the easiest story to adapt for the stage, Lifeline does a remarkable job in creating a futuristic world full of color and space age lighting as they do in creatively staging special effects such as flying through time. The set is skillfully designed to give us the appearance of being lost in the dark vastness when needed, or to find ourselves light years away on a strange planet in a strange universe. Finely-crafted original costumes and hi-tech sound effects sprinkle the final touches in fashioning this ultramodern world we are thrust into for two hours.
Meg Murry needs an exterior that is defiant and bold, though underneath she is smart, confident and caring. Jamie Cahill is able to capture these qualities to give us a believable Meg, for without the play does not work. Cahill is bratty when called for, rebelliously shouting to get her way, she is appropriately emotional as she longs for her father and she is convincing as a teen who would be curious and astonished as a journey such as hers unfolds.
Trent Davis took on the role of Charles Wallace for the play’s opener, taking turns during its run with Davu Smith also cast for the role. Davis exhibits some mature acting chops for such a young man, impressing the audience with his fitting facial expressions, natural line delivery and comic timing. Rounding out the well-cast triad of adventurous kids is Glenn Obrero as Calvin O’Keefe, who is fun to watch as the eldest of the three, kind of taking on a big brother role.
Though his role wasn’t as expanded as many others in this production, Michael McKeogh still leaves an impression as Meg and Charles Wallace’s father, persuasively revealing the father-like qualities any kid would want to have in their own parents. Each of the three Mrs. W’s adds their own spark whether by oddities in their own character or in humorous musings with each other or the children – Mrs. Whatsit (Madeline Pell), Mrs. Who (Javier Ferreira) and Mrs. Which (Carmen Molina). Slightly changing from the novel, The Man with Red Eyes becomes known simply as Red Eyes, and is fiercely played by Naima Hebrail who towers over the stage and crowd with her commanding voice and tremendous presence.
If unfamiliar with Madeline L’Engle’s novel, the stage version is easy enough to follow and enjoy as a new adventure. However, this production might be a bit more special for those who have read the book as we get to see an imaginative recreation of a story many of us have held so close to our hearts as young readers opened up to a new world.
Family-friendly and keenly directed by Elise Kauzlaric, A Wrinkle in Time is a true time traveling quest for some of us to fondly reminisce and for some of us to experience its magic for the first time.
From the Chicago Tribune
March 1, 2017
By Chris Jones
“As played by talented youngsters Jamie Cahill and Trent Davis, those adventurous siblings — who must undergo all kinds of tests of their character and fortitude — are the highlight of director Elise Kauzlaric’s ambitious new production of a James Sie adaptation that Lifeline first produced in its North Side home in 1990 (back then, the kids were played by adults). For some, perhaps, the tale has achieved a new relevance as enlightened kids tackle the great Orwellian forces of darkness — the so-called Central Central Intelligence where a kind of placid uniformity has been imposed, sanding off the edges of despair and happiness. Meg and Charles are smart enough to figure out that this will not do at all.”
March 1, 2017
By Simone Nabicht
“The source material is quite involved, but Sie has cut it down while still capturing the emotion and light humor of the novel. Directed by Elise Kauzlaric, and with a runtime of two hours, this adaptation has enough time to cover the story without leaving many holes… Mrs. Whatsit’s metamorphosis into a character with long, colorful wings was a particularly effective moment… The production is well illustrated by Kevin D. Gawley’s lighting design, culminating in a beautiful final moment for this beautiful story of good against evil.”