Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti and writers for the website talk with the women and men making news in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the world. Thanks to Ian Herman for his wonderful piano introduction.
For decades the science fiction genre has long excluded the female demographic. Although it is unclear why, one can perhaps assume that women’s exclusion was rooted within misogynistic sexual and gender-based viewpoints. What IS clear, is that Madeleine L’Engle’s novel A Wrinkle in Time was unique for its time and a welcomed surprise enjoyed by all audiences, later winning the John Newbery Medal in 1963. Over fifty years later, it seems only fitting that Emmy Award-winner Ava DuVernay would be chosen to direct the re-adaptation as the first black woman to direct a live-action film with a budget of over a $100 million.
The sudden disappearance of NASA scientist Dr. Alexander Murry (Chris Pine) has caused havoc on both his children Meg (Storm Reid) and Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe) as well as his wife Dr. Kate Murry (Gugu Mbatha-Raw). This leads to gossiping among peers and bullying by classmates. The Murry family endures as best they can until three celestial visitors – Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey), Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon), and Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling) – come to help. Asking what appears to be the impossible, Meg, Charles Wallace, and a classmate Calvin O’Keefe (Levi Miller) seek to find Dr. Murry, who has been missing for the last four years.
Traveling through time and space by a process called tesseract to Uriel, a planet billions of light years away, the three children join Mrs. Whatsit, a spunky, form-changing character who interacts well with the children; Mrs. Who, a great linguist who recites insightful quotes when she cannot find her own words; and Mrs. Which, the most omniscient of the group. After arriving in Uriel, each child is made aware of their special talents. Calvin, a supportive, fearless boy whose agape love for Meg, is quite remarkable to watch as he unfolds. Charles Wallace, a telepathic genius with an extensive vocabulary, is extremely poised for his tender age of five. And Meg is a mathematic wiz, who, like many adolescent girls feels awkward about her appearance due to her curly, brown hair and large spectacles.
As the search begins for Meg’s father, the children encounter an evil darkness cast by the “It,” who rules from its planet called Camazotz. The It’s purpose is to cast confusion, jealousy, anger, fear, and pain throughout the world. Realizing that her father has been taken by this entity, Meg, Charles Wallace and Calvin embark on an unforgettable journey.
The cinematography and use of color in this film is superb. From the use of aerial photography to the use of cinemagraphs, DuVernay takes the audience on a magical journey. More importantly, slogans such as “Be a Warrior,” and encouraging teaching moments that acknowledge “all hair is beautiful,” and to “embrace your faults,” should resonate well with both young girls and boys of all colors, backgrounds, and religions. Although L’Engle’s strong beliefs in the Christian faith didn’t rear as strongly in the movie as it did in her book, DuVernay does an excellent job of taking a timeless classic and turning it into a stunning re-adaptation.
There are a couple of things to know should you decide to embark on the 70-minute journey that is Inside, playing at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. The first is that you should dress for the weather, whatever it may be. A portion of the performance takes place outdoors, and if it’s a cold or rainy night you want to be prepared. The second is that the Cathedral was once the workplace of legendary science fiction author Madeline L’Engle. The place and her relationship to it is important, if not integral. If you have not read A Wrinkle in Time, it may be something of a disadvantage as that work seems to be the inspiration for Inside.
There’s something extraordinary about the setting, about taking up the very same space as a woman who so contributed so much to, and some might say pioneered, the form of science fiction/fantasy storytelling as L’Engle did. To gaze out the window where she gazed as she pondered her characters’ journeys. There’s also something visceral and creepy about doing so at night, climbing down narrow stairs into a dark basement, shut off from everything else by means of noise-cancelling headphones. In that way, Inside has very intelligently used the space and its history.
Below: Meggan Dodd, Above: Robin Johnson
The idea of the performance piece (which it is, more than a traditional play) is to give the audience members, twenty-two all told sent in pairs through different rooms in the cathedral’s administrative building, a unique experience. This means unique to each other. The story unfolds over the course of several related mini-plays, one per venue. The first and last are experienced together, with performers who are somewhat in conversation with the audience. The middle three segments use additional storytelling means—a book in one case and audio broadcasting in the other two to supplement the experience. It’s an interesting idea, and very specific to the space, but being as dependent on technology as it is, there’s also the chance for it to be hobbled by that same technology. It’s a very ambitious project, but not quite perfected.
Left to right: Tamilla Woodard, Tjasa Ferme, (almost hidden) Victor Yao, Peca Stefan
The creative team, directors Tamilla Woodard and Ana Margineanu and writer Peca Stefan, describe it as: “immersive. Our intention is to make it plain that you can be in the same place at the same time and have your perspective manipulated, so much so that you can begin to ignore the reality in front of you.” Says Margineanu, “In a present reigned by ‘alternative facts,’ Inside explores the deep mechanisms of manipulation, posing the question ‘how much of what we experience is affected by the voices in our heads, in the media, on social media or from inherited family beliefs?” Both costumed main actors and supplemental voice actors are on at the same time, following their various leads to create a layered experience. Unfortunately, between sometimes patchy reception and breathily whispered lines, it can be quite difficult to discern what is being said over the headphones while also keeping track of what is happening on the performance floor.
Each new pair of audience participants are led through the experience every twenty minutes or so, meaning the scenes must be reset. The transition, including participants being led out, actors returning to their starting places, and the stagehands replacing the props, makes the experience feel somewhat intrusive instead of immersive, which is a shame because the thinking behind the project is solid if not executed to its fullest potential. There’s also a lot of emotional heavy lifting. My partner in the journey, actress Marilyn Sokol, described the position of being a young actor tasked with delivering such heavy performances as “unenviable,” though those young actors really did throw themselves into the suffering the parts demanded, being as the performances are “continuous and overlapping,”
Unfortunately, the point of the production is for the audience participants to have two different experiences, but without time for discussion there’s no real way of knowing that they’re different until a later segment when one person is asked to perform a task and the other isn’t. Sometimes it isn’t even clear that the performance has begun, creating some awkwardness during attempts at dialogue with the performers, who have to stick to their scripts. Then again, that feeling of “is it or isn’t it?” lingers on. “In the theatre we are always asking for a suspension of disbelief and an acceptance of the reality we propose,” sums up Woodard. “In PopUP’s Inside that proposition — focused on the world around us — takes on an entirely new meaning.”
Despite the technical and logistic complications, there are moments of real emotional connection, even stark tension. If the group can solve the issues that break up and take the audience participants out of the experience, they will have a much more affecting piece, a piece of theater worthy of its astonishing backdrop.
Photos: Carly J. Bauer
INSIDE PopUP Theatrics Written by Peca Stefan Directed by Tamilla Woodard and Ana Margineanu Guest direction by France Damian Choreography by Joya Powel Contributions of guest playwrights Zhu Yi and Troy Deutsch Tickets for April shows now on sale. Go to PopUP Theatrics.
International Women’s Day is March 8th. In the spirit of the occasion, it seems appropriate to consider watching a movie with a woman director. Sadly, at present, this is a limited field, nevertheless we have found five worthy contenders and hope to see far, FAR more in the future.
The Piano (1993) Written and directed by New Zealand’s own Jane Campion, this romantic drama starring Holly Hunter as a mute piano player and widowed mother who becomes entangled in a convoluted love triangle with Sam Neill and Harvey Keitel. It made over $140 million worldwide on a seven million dollar budget, was nominated for eight Academy Awards and won three; Best Actress for Holly Hunter, Best Supporting Actress for Anna Paquin, and Best Original Screenplay for Campion. Campion also became the first and thus far only woman to win the Palme d’Or at Cannes. She would later go on to direct the award winning romantic drama Bright Star, as well as write and direct the TV mystery/drama series Top Of the Lake starring Elisabeth Moss in a role that’s won her a Golden Globe and Critics Choice Award.
Monsoon Wedding (2001) Directed by Indian born Mira Nair this romantic comedy details various entanglements and dramas taking place during a traditional Punjabi Hindu wedding in Delhi. Along the way we are treated to song and dance numbers as well as a number of observations about life in Modern 21st Century India and Punjabi culture. The movie was nominated for a BAFTA and a Golden Globe. It won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival making Nair only the second Indian to win in that category. Nair would go on to direct such films as The Namesake (nominated for a Gotham Award and Independent Spirit Award), The Reluctant Fundamentalist (for which Nair won The Bridge, The German Film Award for Peace), and Queen of Katwe (nominated for four NAACP Image Awards and Winner of Best Family Film by Women Film Critics Circle.)
Lost In Translation (2003) Written and directed by Sofia Coppola (daughter of the legendary Francis Ford Coppola), this bittersweet comedy starring Bill Murray (in a role that many considered to be his best work to date and which launched a career renaissance for him) as a washed up movie star who connects with young, unhappy, newlywed Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson in her breakout role). The movie was a huge breakout success earning over a $100 million on a four million dollar budget. Johannson and Murray each received BAFTA Awards. The film garnered four Oscar nominations including Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Director. Coppola actually won an Oscar for Best Screenplay. Sofia would later become the first American woman to win the Golden Lion the top prize at the Venice International Film Festival for 2010’s Somewhere which she also wrote and directed.
The Hurt Locker (2009) Directed by Kathryn Bigelow (Point Break, Strange Days). This war thriller about an Iraqi bomb squad starring Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, and Brian Geraghty is one of the most suspenseful and grittiest war movies ever made with an incredible emphasis on the psychological toll of combat. It’s so intense and realistic you can almost taste sand in your mouth during one particular sequence. It was universally acclaimed by critics and went on to win six Academy Awards including Best Picture. Bigelow won the award for Best Director and as of this date The Hurt Locker remains the first movie directed by a woman to win either Best Director or Best Picture. Bigelow would go on to direct Zero Dark Thirty which would be nominated for five Oscar awards including Best Picture.
Selma (2014) Directed by Ava DuVernay. While DuVernay was the first African American woman to win the Sundance Film Festival Award for Best Director for her feature film Middle of Nowhere, it was this historical drama starring David Oyelowo as Martin Luther King, Jr. based on the real life voting marches from Selma to Montgomery,that helped her truly rise to prominence. With Selma, DuVernay became the first African American woman to be nominated for the Golden Globe for Best Director as well as the black female director to have her film nominated by the Academy for Best Picture. In 2017, she was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature for her film 13th examining race and mass incarceration in the U.S. She’s currently working on directing on an adaption of A Wrinkle in Time for Disney with a budget exceeding $100 million making DuVernay the first black woman to direct a live action film with a budget of such size.