Flint Youth Theatre offers hope amongst the shadows
FLINT, Mich.–There is a lot of power in some children’s stories, themes that never die and need to be told over and over again.
The messages in Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time feel more compelling and needed than ever before. It is a story about the need for individualism, the need for love and the need to constantly fight the shadow of hatred, anti-intellectualism and conformity.
Tracy Young’s adaptation of this classic children’s novel is currently being performed on the Flint Youth Theatre stage. It’s a novel where young Meg (Paige Benner) is called upon to rescue her missing Father (Bret Beaudry). He does work for the government and no one has heard from him for a long time.
Trying to keep things calm and together is her mother (Kristina Riegle), a talented scientist and chemist, who encourages her four children: Meg, the twins Dennys and Sandy (Lucas and Willian Eldredge) and Charles Wallace (Haedyn Scott).
The journey to rescue the Father will take Meg, Charles Wallace and schoolmate Calvin O’Keefe (Syd Brown) into other worlds and times throughout the universe, led by three other-worldly beings: Mrs. Who (Brittany Reed), Mrs. Whatsit (Amy Dolan-Malaney) and Mrs. Which (Riegle).
All of the adults in this cast play multiple roles in each world. They make quick changes into Katherine Nelson’s costumes, costumes both mundane and fantastical. They transform into creatures that are unlike any others we know on earth.
Director Michael Lluberes made some brave choices in this production, including the choice to age-appropriate actors in the roles of the children, children who are all out-of-the ordinary and sometimes, such as in the case of Charles Wallace, possessing a vocabulary far beyond their years—in fact, at times far beyond the vocabulary of the average adult.
Scott shows himself to be quite the talented actor in undertaking this challenge. It’s a difficult role, perhaps the most difficult in the play. Modern audiences might refer to Charles Wallace as a “mutant” because of his intellectual and mental abilities, his mother refers to him as something “new.” In this role, Scott is called upon to explain physics, to keep in order the oddball adults he meets and to take charge in unusual situations. He is especially skilled when called upon to act out unusual physicalities. For someone so young and slight, he has a strong stage presence.
Benner is at the center of all the action and she does a fine job. Meg is, in many ways the most relatable character, easy to identify with and possessing frustrations and fears that drive her to do what she does. Benner expertly portrays these emotions along with Meg’s vulnerabilities and fears. She never leaves the stage throughout the 90-minute, intermission-free show.
Brown, returning to Flint Youth Theater’s stage after performing as Charlie in Willy Wonka and other roles in The Jungle Book and The Adventures of Robin Hood, brings confidence and calm to the role of Calvin. They expertly handle subtle emotional moments, particularly when Calvin struggles with family issues.
Beaudry is a particularly strong presence, even though his character is missing for much of the play. He has a clear, strong voice and best handles some of the complicated exposition and explanations inherent in this play.
Lluberes has a challenging job in making sure that complicated concepts are understood by the audience. His job goes far beyond blocking and pacing, especially as he must lead young actors in speaking things that are sometimes far beyond their knowledge. It’s a bit like a Shakespearean director who must ensure his cast understands what they are saying, for when they don’t, neither do the audience.
He does excel and leading a technical staff in executing his vision.
Alison Dobbins does an outstanding job with projections which help to bring to visual life such complicated concepts as tesseracting or providing backdrops for different planets, weather, and galactic panoramas.
Lisa Borton designs a multi-level framed set that allows the house to double as multi-locations and contribute to the other-worldly feel of the show while also providing a simple, small-town home. It also provides a backdrop for Dobbin’s projections, the two working hand-in-hand to create the magical effects needed to tell the story of “A Wrinkle in Time.”
Gene Oliver adds many sound effects and soundtracks to the show, helping to move the show through time and space. There were times when the sounds overpowered the young voices that didn’t have the strength to project over the noise.
Wrinkle in Time is an optimistic story, even when it starts out in stormy fear and depression. It acknowledges that our world is in the shadow of hatred and fear, but gives us hope by casting a spotlight on those who fight the darkness, those who will do whatever it takes to keep humanity from losing all that is best about us.
While this performance sometimes struggles with clarity when it comes to line delivery, it does bring fresh life to this classic tale at a time when the themes and message are more in need than ever.