When Chelsea Clinton mentioned the classic novel A Wrinkle in Time at last summer's Democratic National Convention, the beloved book, first published in 1963, saw a resurgence in sales which positioned it in the top 100 in book sales. That response, to a mere mention in a speech, demonstrates the lasting power of Madeleine L'Engle's book, an unusual blend of fantasy and science fiction.
While there were no doubt new readers among last summer's surge, it's just as likely that devoted fans were moved to revisit a book which had captured their hearts decades earlier.
In fact, the novel's enduring popularity can also be demonstrated in the upcoming film release. Set to premiere in April 2018, the Ava DuVernay-directed adaptation stars Reese Witherspoon, Chris Pine and Oprah Winfrey and will no doubt instigate another visit to the bestsellers list for L'Engle.
Fans of the book (or even newbies to the title) don't have to wait until next year to see the story come to life, however. With this month's production, all for One steps outside the box and puts this story on their home stage at the Auer Center ArtsLab black box theatre. Directing the play is all for One's technical director Jeff Salisbury who has also taken the stage this season, playing C.S. Lewis in Freud's Last Session last fall. He was presented with the challenge of bringing this special story to life by all for One artistic director Lauren Nichols and has been enjoying the process.
"Lauren gave [the book] to me last year and asked if I'd be interested in directing it this season," says Salisbury. "I read it again because I only vaguely remembered it from reading it as a little kid. There was so much artistic stuff in it and so many challenges. It's just a good and fun story with a lot of good messages. And I thought it would be fun to tackle some of the challenges that would come with staging it especially because we've never done a science fiction story before."
For those who haven't read the novel (and there's still time before the production to do so), the story centers on the adventures of three young children, each of whom is a misfit in his or her own way. Young Meg, her brother Charles and their friend Calvin embark on a trip to find the father of Meg and Charles who has suddenly left the family. Though more than 50 years old, the story perfectly captures the difficulty of being a kid who isn't exactly like everyone else and how isolating and difficult it can be for children in that situation.
Where the story moves from universal to out-of-this-universe is in the journey the children take, one which introduces them to alien planets and alien beings. Along the way they learn as much about their own inner strength as they do the magical tour at the heart of the book.
Salisbury says that there's a lot to learn and see in the story, which is why it fits perfectly into the all for One faith-based mission of sharing timeless literature and powerful messages.
"Once I started reading it again, I saw all the allegories and lessons that the book had to offer. It can be hard to pick up on some of those things when you're a kid, but I was taken by how well the messages were presented within the framework of a fun story. I think kids and grownups have a hard time accepting who they are sometimes, just feeling comfortable in their own shoes. We can have too much pride and try to take on the world by ourselves."
His reintroduction to the novel is taking place along with that of his cast, 13 actors ranging in age from seven to retirement.
"Several of the adults already knew the book and had read it themselves when they were younger. The kids have started reading it now, so there's a wide range of familiarity with the story. It's led to some interesting discussions in the rehearsals."
Story aside, there are very real staging issues to be confronted for a director, even one with a lot of experience like Salisbury. His job here, bringing this magical story to life, aliens and all, is challenging.
"We have to deal with people who are changing and transforming into different shapes and are being controlled by beings that are not people but are aliens and things like that. It has to be handled very creatively on stage because no theater has the budget to build huge space crafts and animals. I can adapt some aspects of the story, but I can't adapt everything, so it's about how much creativity I can bring to it. If I got stuck about how to put some of it on the stage, people would put out ideas for me. There's just been so much excitement and energy surrounding this show."
Even for the all for One shows Salisbury doesn't direct (Nichols directed the company's first three shows of the season), he does serve as technical director, and his expertise in lighting design has been helpful to him as he puts together A Wrinkle in Time. Nichols has said that there will be some fun surprises for the audience, and Salisbury is enjoying this step outside the box for all for One and the chance it gives him to do something new and exciting.
"I just keep thinking how much fun this show is going to be," he says. "All for One doesn't do a lot of dark, intense stuff. We don't have a lot of creepy, dangerous stories. So this is something new for us, and I'm really looking forward to it."