It all came on so suddenly. Sofia lost all her baby incisors at about the same time she graduated to reading chapter books. She traded in her hot pink organdy tutu for a wardrobe of pima jerseys in brooding purples. Her social insouciance gave way to a new anxiety about 3rd grade classroom cliques. Toads and trolls, instead of princesses and puppies, now peopled her drawings and stories.
I recognized the symptoms of incipient geekery from my own experience a few aeons ago (although my onset of nerdiness, well into my teens, was nowhere near as precocious as Sofia’s). So what’s a grandpa to do to ease her through this larval stage?
Leveraging her new-found reading fluency, I prescribed the same book that helped tide me over back in the day — Madeleine L’Engle’s “Wrinkle in Time,”a sci-fi saga of a preteen misfit and her genius kid brother. Aided by a trio of dotty guardian angels, they embark on an inter-galactic quest to rescue their scientist dad, who’s lost on a secret space mission.
The book’s got everything an entry-level geek might need: a parallel universe to escape into, hints of pseudo-science and even a whiff of spirituality. Plus a reassurance that Love Conquers All. Not to mention a sprinkling of nifty new vocabulary words. Plenty of teaching moments,
Sofia and I could read it together during her annual summer sojourn with us down here in NorCal. And, best of all, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF) is staging “A Wrinkle in Time” this summer. So, as a graduation present from her ad hoc Grandparental Boot Camp out here in the Trinity wilds, we could take her to the show and initiate her into the family’s Ashland addiction.
Not such an original idea, as it turned out. Grandparents with grandchildren seemed to make up nearly half the house on the day we went. Director Tracy Young clearly has a good handle on her generation-spanning audience, as evinced in the production details.
For us wrinkly relics of the Sputnik era, Videographer Shawn Sagady serves up a cyclorama images of noirish nostalgia — bomb shelters, duck-and-cover drills, civil rights marchers, ICBM’s — to evoke the book’s 1962 provenance. But there’s also enough fancy sci-fi FX to engage a cutting-edge video gamester like Sofia. She was especially impressed at how Set Designer Christopher Acebo, Lighting Designer Robert Wierzel and Puppet Designer Lynn Jeffries could achieve so much gee-whizzery with no computer graphics: just plain old strobes, smoke-machines, strings and pulleys, chutes and ladders.
The make-do, catch-as-catch-can ethos of the staging carried over into the casting as well. Pretty much everyone plays multiple roles and also recites connective passages of narrative from L’Engle’s text. This makes for a certain improvisatory, school-panto-style fluidity. Meg, the prickly, preteen geek, is played by Alejandra Escalante — a versatile tour de force for an actress who’s headlined over the past two OSF seasons in such romantic Shakespearean “star crossed lover” roles as Juliet and Miranda.
Sara Bruner, in Dennis the Menace overalls and coiffure, was less convincing as Meg’s kid brother, an encyclopedic, telepathic, five-year-old know-it all. U. Jonathan Toppo shines in a dazzling range of supporting roles, from the family dog to the arch-villain IT of the crypto Soviet planet Camazotz. Daniel T. Parker, as Aunt Beast, manages to be cuddly even in a seven-foot-tall squid suit.
The day after “A Wrinkle in Time,” we took Sofia on OSF’s backstage tour. She marveled at the quick-change costumes, the dense banks of lights, the precision timing, the scenery lifts. But the aspect of the show that most mystified me — the mechanics of inter-galactic warp drive — left her perfectly blase.
“Oh, that’s easy,” she shrugged at our post-tour lunch. “You just transect a tesseract.” Whereupon she set out to explain herself with folded napkins, toothpick arrays and scrawled diagrams on the place mats. I’m still trying to figure it all out.
Lincoln Kaye is a forest fire lookout on Ironside Mountain in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest. He was a foreign correspondent in Asia for nearly 30 years before retiring to Trinity County.