Walking into Capital Fringe Festival’s Redrum venue, the only thing I remembered from reading Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland” a few years ago is the part where Alice grows into a giant after she drinks a peculiar potion.
However, as soon as I entered the theater, it all came back to me — the white and black checkerboard floor, the large black top hat with a gold trim, the pink inflatable flamingos – all of this reminded me of the whimsical, child-like, adventurous spirit Carroll captures so well in his story. “Please stay seated our, players will be among you shortly”, the announcer says. Quietly, I wait on the edge of my seat in anticipation.
The challenge of staging a story like Alice in Wonderland is capturing the quirky and playful elements in a manner that is neither too overdone, nor too bland. While some of the actors in this Greenbelt Arts Center production succeed in portraying their characters with the perfect amount of exuberance needed, others fall short. Consequentially, Lewis Carroll’s tale is not able to shine as brightly as it should.
Liz Cassedy, who is Alice, is a joy to watch. From the moment she makes her entrance, her wide eyes and floppy mannerisms are exactly how one would envision a 7 ½ year old Alice to be. She is particularly good at miming. For instance, when the troupe mimes her fall into the tunnel by pushing her back and forth in a circle, Cassedy lets her body float lightly between them. Her voice captures a child’s inquisitive and naïve spirit, and she remains fully committed to her character during the entire story.
Her main counterpart, however, Ryan “ryknow” Willis, who plays Carroll, Caterpillar and the Mad Hatter along with other characters, fails to match her enthusiasm in these roles. We first see him as Lewis, where he never clearly seems to decide on a definite character. His voice remains monotone throughout most of the play, failing to explore different inflections.
His performance as the Mad Hatter is by far his best, as he points a spoon threateningly around the table, trying to enforce good manners on his company. During this scene he gives his best performance in the play when he jumps on the table, crying because he is being teased. Here, Willis exhibits the uninhibited energy that is lacking in the other characters he plays.
Ronda Ansted perfectly fits into the fur of Cheshire Cat, with a mischievous laugh and a sly demeanor that is delightful. When she cackles “we are all mad here”, she proves by far the maddest of them all, evoking laughter from the audience.
Humpty Dumpty (Brendan Perry) serves us more of the same blandness we saw in Willis’ characterizations. Perry offers no particularly entertaining characterization, but, rather, sits on the table, intermittently swaying as if he were about to fall, and speaking his lines without color or discovery. His fall from table is very well done, however, and he lands perfectly flat on the floor, and is shortly thereafter rolled away by his fellow actors.
The costumes mirror the story’s playful nature, adding elements of steampunk such as dark colored vests, lace elbow gloves and brass buttons. The cleverest costume of them all is perhaps the Caterpillars. For this role, Willis changes into a patterned green silk robe, and stands in the middle of his fellow actors, who have crouched down to be his caterpillar body. His bug-eyed sunglasses give him that “cool” caterpillar look, and he smokes hookah from a pinkie finger that fellow actor Kathleen Mil holds up for him.
If all aspects of this production mirrored the color and creativity of the caterpillar’s costume, the story would succeed in capturing the magical nature of Carroll’s tale. However it falls short of doing so, largely due to the some key performances that lack the energy and characterization needed.
Those who know and love the story of “Alice in Wonderland” will enjoy watching their favorite vignettes being preformed onstage. The gentleman sitting besides me during the show was just such a Carroll fan, and was delighted as he watched his favorite story unfold. Indeed, there are elements of the production that soar, but they are weighed down by those elements that never manage to leave the ground, and production as a whole remains at a level that is below wonderful.
Alice in Wonderland has 5 performances, ending July 27, 2012, at Redrum at Fort Fringe612 L St NW, Washington, DC.
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Stephanie rates this 3 out of a possible 5.