Added Tweedledee, “you like poetry”
“Yes, pretty well- SOME poetry” Alice said doubtfully – Lewis Carroll
Using events from Lewis Carroll’s Alice books (Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There) as well as many passages taken directly from these source texts, Alice follows the titular character through highlights of her journeys through Wonderland where she meets such familiar characters as the White Rabbit, the Red Queen, and the Mad Hatter, as well as the lesser known White Queen, Duchess, and Red and White Knights.
The promotional materials for Alice promise a steam-punk reworking of the classic story that is driven by Alice’s fight to conquer her own anxiety. However, the show, as presented, is a pretty straightforward adaptation of Carroll’s work, albeit for a small cast and a small space. The script relies heavily on wordy narration and the arch dialogue feels very much like the many, many stage and screen adaptations that have come before it.
The costumes are, in fact, Steam Punky, if I may coin a term. Top hats and gears abound. However, since Steam Punk is a style predicated on a return to fashions and technology of the Victorian era and Alice in Wonderland was, in fact, written in Victorian era, it doesn’t seem like much of a stretch.
The promise of anxiety is also mostly unfulfilled. Lily Kerrigan, as Alice, does make a strong and apparent choice to play the title character as less whimsically naïve and more clinically stressed, although this choice is rarely reflected in the other characters or the staging. The one exception is in the frenetic, highly-choreographed Mad Hatter’s Tea Party; as the cast twitches and jumps to clanking tea cups and saucers and frantically switching chairs, Alice’s fear and anxiety are palpable.
It is in the most iconic scenes that the adaptation is most successful. In addition to the exceptionally mad Tea Party, Alice’s madcap romp with Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee (Dino Coppa and Nick Martin) is funny and well-staged, and Sarah Cusenza takes an effective turn as the Caterpillar.
The actors all draw heavily on past portrayals of the better-known denizens of Wonderland; echoes of Walt Disney’s 1951 cartoon and NBC’s 1999 television event are abundant. However, in a script that sticks so closely to the plot, language and characterization of the original, the audience would have perhaps felt lost without the traditional braying Red Queen (Sally Cusenza), a sleepy, child-like dormouse (Amanda Quain), and a Caterpillar whose speeches resonate with elongated vowels and deep round tones.
Adapted from the Lewis Carroll story by Karl Meier
Directed by Haley Murphy
Details and tickets
It is when the audience is faced with the lesser characters of Through the Looking Glass that the acting falls short. The White Knight (Dino Coppa) and Red Knight (Nick Martin) feel oddly stylized and overly whimsical when faced with an anxiety-racked Alice, and Amanda Quain plays the White Queen with an unbalanced, aggressive sexuality that feels both predatory and unintentional when paired with Kerrigan’s choice to play Alice (as Carroll intended) as a very young girl.
Ultimately, one is led to the ultimate questions any adaptation poses: why this source text, why this play, why now? I left the theatre with these questions unanswered. If you have never seen an adaptation of Carroll’s work, this show will provide a nice introduction. If you have seen every adaptation of Carroll’s work, and delight in any and all portrayals of his characters and plots, Alice may be for you. However, if you are one of the many of us who live somewhere in between those two extremes, I am not sure there is a really a point.
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