Sunday, April 29, 2012

TCR's Alice Is Entrancing

by Matthew Falduto
Photo by Alisabeth Photography

TCR - As a boy, I was fascinated by Star Wars. Many of my made-up adventures involved piloting starships, swinging across chasms, and battling with lightsabers. My ten-year-old imagination soared in the free and unlimited way that children manage effortlessly. As we grow older, we lose that freedom to imagine as 'real life' weighs us down with jobs and car payments and laundry. This is frankly tragic, but expected. What is more tragic -- and less expected -- is a child losing her imagination. That's the basis for Theatre Cedar Rapids' intriguing production of Alice in Wonderland, which has been adapted by Jason Alberty.

As my daughters and I settled into our seats, we took measure of the stage. It was mostly bare, with a table or two and clothes on a rack. My youngest daughter -- she's almost five -- guessed that the actors might wear those clothes during the play. The actors mingled with the audience, and in fact the play opens with the actors breaking the fourth wall. We even hear the stage manager calling actors to places and cueing the lights. This creates a storytelling feel to the entire play which is very effective, particularly for shows aimed at kids. The audience feels part of the action.

Each actor, with one exception, portrays more than one character. Even Alice (Victoria Virag) is sometimes the actress and sometimes Alice Liddell, the girl who supposedly inspired Charles Dodgson, otherwise known as Lewis Carroll, to write the book Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, the source material for this play. While the play is called Alice in Wonderland, this is unlike any Alice adaptation you might have seen. We begin with Charles (Andrew Clancey) attempting to take Alice through the story we all know and love. However, Alice is a modern girl, not a 19th-Century kid, and she resists his attempts to follow the narrative. Instead, she insists Charles skip parts of the story that don't appeal to her; for instance, she's not interested in crying and creating a pool of tears as Alice does in chapter two of the book. As Charles tells her early on, this is her story, so he has no choice but to allow the modern Alice to follow her imagination wherever it takes her. That's the thrust of the story - the wonder and power of a child's imagination. We follow Alice as she re-discovers that wonder.

The ensemble is strong and the actors work very well together. Early on, Charles recites the Jabberwocky poem (which is actually part of the sequel to Alice in Wonderland, but methinks writer Jason Alberty just loves it too much to not use it), and the actors create the Jabberwocky creature together. It's the epitome of teamwork in acting, and the creature is wonderful to behold. Each actor has a chance to shine individually as well. Andy Lesieur is wonderfully insane as the Mad Hatter; James Trainor is perfectly goofy as the March Hare. Mary Pat Schulte commands the stage as The Queen of Hearts. When she arrives, we are asking, "Where have you been all play?"; we want more of that inspired lunacy. Kudos to director Leslie Chariper for just allowing her adult actors to play... for it is clear that each of these actors are having a blast with this show, being silly and whimsical and being like... well, kids. And the other child actor besides Alice -- second-grader Arjun Palaniappan -- is adorable as the White Rabbit.

Holding the entire play together are the two leads, Virag and Clancey. Virag expertly portrays that plucky 21st-Century girl we all know and love. We are rooting for her from scene one and are thrilled when she takes charge of the story and changes the Hatter and March Hare into characters she can relate to. Bravo to writer Alberty for creating a heroine my daughters can look up to. Clancey is simply excellent as Dodgson. He's stuffy and funny and keeps the action moving along.

There's so little to criticize in this show. Perhaps we hear the theme a few more times than we need to, but the show is aimed at kids, so a little repetition may not be a bad thing. Joni Sackett's costumes are delightful, particularly the Caterpillar's multi-colored one. The music between scenes is fun and lively, keeping the audience entertained as the necessary business of changing the set is accomplished. All in all, it is a charming show. I would strongly encourage you to take your kids to Alice in Wonderland. Both my-eight-year-old daughter and her little sister were entranced, literally sitting of the edge of their seats, their imaginations skyrocketing through the show with Alice. And well, so was I, their job-obsessed, bill-paying, laundry-doing dad!

Alice in Wonderland runs through May 19 (7:30 Thursday through Saturday, 2:30 Sunday) on Theatre Cedar Rapids' mainstage. Tickets are $25 Premium/$20 Standard ($15 Youth/Student).

No comments: