Gwen Orel

Program Notes: In the theater, program notes provide further background on the play. In this series, I comment on what I'm thinking, particularly as it refers to what I'm writing about at the time.

At the “Wrinkle in Time” book club on Saturday, teacher Regina O’Connor told the children, ages 9-12, “After this, Madeleine L’Engle will be a name you know for the rest of your life, when you’re in your 40s.”

DON’T INSULT US! they cried. And, NEVER!

To them, 40 is a loooooong time away.

If you’re a features writer, sooner or later you’ll find yourself writing about things from your past, in one way or another.

This week I was hit by two waybacks: a book I loved as a child, and a show I was Equity assistant stage manager for Montclair State University’s Theatrefest, the summer before I went to grad school.

I was excited to work on both stories but also, in honesty, a little depressed.

Of course, I knew it was a long time ago that I worked on “Ain’t Misbehavin’.”  The hilarity when a props man carved a watermelon obscenely at a barbecue!

But seeing photographs from that summer gave me vertigo.

When I was 21, and looked 14, people told me, “One day you’ll be glad.”

They were right.


At the first meeting of the “Wrinkle in Time” book club, 9-year-old Dorothea Cook brought a book with the 50th-anniversary cover art. I told her, “You know, when I was growing up, that was just the cover.”

In the book, a character describes a tesseract: it’s a way of traveling through space, using the fifth dimension. If an ant were to crawl along the hem of a skirt, it’s a long journey. But if the skirt is folded, and the ant walks from one edge of the fold to the other, it’s very quick.

It’s not really time travel.

But reading a book from childhood is, and so is looking at old photographs.

Angela Robinson and Gwen Orel
The author, right, stands with “Ain’t Misbehavin’” actress Angela Robinson, outside MSU's theater department. COURTESY GWEN OREL

Like the classic book, my photographs haven’t changed since I last saw them.

Why, then,  are they different now?

When I first read “A Wrinkle in Time” the joke of a character called the Happy Medium went right over my head (in fairness, I was  a teenager before I understood how Pooh lived under the sign “Trespassers Will”).

I knew that an author wrote the book, but I think I used to believe that children’s book authors were really journalists pretending it was fiction. (C.S. Lewis, this is your fault, with the professor in “The Chronicles of Narnia.”)

The photographs of me used to be awful. How did they get so good?

Wrinkles, and time. They change everything.

At the open rehearsal last week for “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” director André De Shields spoke of having been in the original Broadway cast, and what it means for him to direct “my children. My grandchildren.”

It means a lot.

Re-reading “A Wrinkle in Time” reminded me of why I was a bookworm in the first place. I’m not a fan of the “divorcee on the beach thinking about life” books, no matter how lovely the prose.

So it was huge to discover that yep, I still love reading.

When I stage managed “Ain’t Misbehavin’” all those years ago, I knew my dad would love it: he used to sing the Fats Waller song “I really hate ya cause your feet’s too big.” But when Rheaume Crenshaw, in rehearsal, talked about how audiences react when they get to the “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter” part of the show, I got a lump in my throat, too. De Shields, as well as some of the cast, has done the show many times.

There’s always something new to find.

I can’t discover these things for the first time.

But rediscovery is a kind of new wrinkle in that first time.