Monday, January 26, 2015

ASF Interns: "Alice in Wonderland"

For just over an hour, the Alabama Shakespeare Festival Intern Acting Company transports Alice [Jessica G. Smith] and audiences of all ages down a rabbit hole in director Nancy Rominger's magically whimsical production of Jean Erickson's adaptation of the Lewis Carroll classic Alice in Wonderland.

The script is faithful to its source, and this production is enhanced by Pamela Scofield's inventive and colorful costumes, and James Wolk's masterful scenic design.

When Alice wanders off from a picnic school-lesson led by her prim and proper sister Edith [Betsey Helmer], her dizzying tailspin (adroitly staged by this eight member ensemble -- most of whom play multiple roles), lands her in a place where animals, plants, a deck of cards, and chess pieces test her logical and imaginative mind as she tries to get back home.

Bewildered though she might be by the literal-mindedness of the inhabitants of this "Wonderland", she is also intrigued by all things strange and wonderful -- as we are as we follow her on her adventures. As  Alice says, things get "curiouser and curiouser".

All the major episodes of Carroll's book are presented here: Alice's growing smaller and taller in her attempt to fit through a tiny door in order to follow the White Rabbit [Patrick Burr] who is always late and insists on calling her Maryann. -- Alice meets the Caterpillar [S. Lewis Feemster] who tells her to stop whining and get on with it; then it's on to the Duchess [Metushaleme Dary], who has a moral for everything, and the Cook [Ms. Helmer again], who puts too much pepper in the soup, and where the White Rabbit delivers an invitation to play croquet with the Queen.

Various meetings with the Cheshire Cat [also Mr. Feemster manipulating a glorious puppet that continuously has him changing shape] test Alice's patience and knowledge.

The Mad Hatter's [Jonathan Weber] tea party with the March Hare [Cory Lawson] and Dormouse [Mike Petrie, Jr.] gets maddeningly outrageous. Their antics keep the pace moving swiftly.

And on to croquet (using flamingoes to hit hedgehogs through arches formed by playing cards) with the Knave [Mr. Petrie], King [Mr. Lawson] and Queen of Hearts [Ms. Helmer] whose "off with their heads" is a common refrain whenever she doesn't immediately get what she wants.

Alice eventually confronts the Queen's authority, and there is a frantic -- if prolonged -- chase sequence in searching out the culprit who stole the Queen's tarts.

The best of children's theatre assumes the youngsters in the audience will get engaged with the on-stage action -- and they certainly do here with both prompted and unsolicited responses and plenty of laughs as Alice's adventures get more and more confused.

And there are sufficient lessons for children and adults to absorb: to be curious about the world can result in knowledge and understanding of it, be truthful, power and money don't guarantee happiness, and when Edith finds her asleep on her return to the "real" world, Alice declares that "there should always be time to wonder...good advice.