Lewis Carroll’s stories about the adventures of a little girl who falls down a rabbit hole have shown remarkable staying power. Few of the many renditions of this classic on stage and screen, however, can match the extravagance and sheer audacity of Children’s Theatre Company’s current production of “Alice in Wonderland.”
CTC’s foray into Wonderland sizzles with surprises, from kitchens and tea parties that pop out of the floor to chairs that fly through the air and bottles that mysteriously empty themselves and then vanish altogether. Director Peter C. Brosius draws upon English pantomime and music hall traditions to create a dizzying series of vignettes that mingle song, dance, sleight-of-hand effects and broad humor. The action unfolds on G.W. Mercier’s opulent rendition of a Victorian theater, complete with footlights, black-and-white diamond patterned floor and telescoping proscenium arches.
Twenty actors dive into dozens of roles to bring Carroll’s nonsensical work to life. Mo Perry’s Duchess presides over her steamy kitchen with choleric glee, wielding a pepper mill like a scepter. Dean Holt and Reed Sigmund, as the Mad Hatter and the March hare, offer up a charmingly demented comedy routine, complete with dormouse puppet and an over-the-top, angst-ridden rendition of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Bat.” Autumn Ness is hilariously autocratic as the Queen of Hearts, while Gerald Drake provides an obsequious foil as the meek King of Hearts, dutifully following her around on a leash. At the center of all this fractured nonsense, Anna Evans’ Alice demonstrates flashes of ironic humor while remaining remarkably grounded.
The production is a scenic wonder, with set pieces and puppets taking on lives of their own. As two competing footmen, Braxton Baker and Haden Cadiz enact a comic pas de deux with a door, while Jason Ballweber’s raucous Cheshire cat is a conglomeration of oversized body parts, including a giant waving tail. In one of the highlights of the production, the Jabberwock materializes as a dreamlike monster wielded by the ensemble, creating a menacing backdrop to Reed Sigmund’s clumsy and poignantly charming White Knight. With all the giddy illogic of a dream, nothing is quite what it seems; simple fans transform into shrubs which then morph into kaleidoscopes, while monochromatic costumes blossom into a screaming array of colors. Counterpointing the action at every turn is Victor Zupanc’s exuberant music.
This rollicking production contains enough wit and razzle-dazzle to captivate children and adults alike. It’s a rich and textured production that pays homage to Carroll’s droll humor, sparkling language and inventive imagination while infusing his work with an inspired and immediate theatricality.
Lisa Brock writes regularly about theater.