Alice in Wonderland at the Children’s Theatre Company

Brandon Brooks as the White Rabbit

Brandon Brooks as the White Rabbit

The Children’s Theatre Company returns to an old favorite with Sharon Holland’s script of Lewis Carroll’s classic fantasy, Alice in Wonderland. About ten years ago, Dominic Serrand directed it for CTC; artistic director Peter Brosius takes a more traditional path down that famous rabbit hole this time, but it’s still brimming with the splendid technical virtuosity and visual gags that CTC does so well.

I especially appreciated the way that children of all ages were incorporated into the action —not as children, necessarily, but in size- and age-appropriate ways, without a trace of “small actor, small role.” The kids were charming, carrying off a dazzling assortment of roles and responsibilities that required finesse and timing.

With all these carefully orchestrated and choreographed bits, there were a few glitches: I presume the baby was not supposed to hit the floor, for example, and there were sound effects off kilter from the schtick. Generally, for an opening night, some bits were on the loose side. But there were many that did hit and delighted this audience. The clowning with the tea party chairs was circus-worthy. The smoothly choreographed ladder sequence was set up nicely by the door slapstick in a previous scene. And what child wouldn’t want to be in Dot McDonald’s and Adam Qualls’ costumes, transformed into the personal bouncy castles known as Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee.

The Dormouse puppet, in particular, was great fun, and the large puppetry for the Cheshire Cat (Jason Ballweber) and the Jabberwok was spectacular. But I got just as much of a kick out of the string of actors – wearing Crocs on their feet and hands – playing the rest of Reed Sigmund’s Caterpiller. It was one of those simple but smoothly executed theater “tricks” that the audience gets to enjoy from the inside out.  Brian Sostek as movement director deserves a solo bow.

This script is more faithful to the book than is necessary. In particular, the final scene in the Queen of Hearts’ garden seems to go on longer than is needed for a denouement (the ending device doesn’t require anything more than another of the Queen’s tirades anyway), and it seemed to me that the croquet with live hedgehogs and flamingos works better on the page. Throw in live wickets and it gets a little messy.

I would so like to see a CTC production that backs away a bit from the overblown acting. I admit that I have an issue with this. I just don’t agree that children need to be hit over the head to be entertained. The over-the-top silliness can work for some over-the-top characters, such as the Duchess, played chillingly by Mo Perry, and the Mad Hatter and Humpty Dumpty, both played masterfully by Dean Holt. But the Cheshire Cat, for example, was an opportunity to give it a rest, and why, oh why direct Alice (Anna Evans)—the only character who isn’t mad—to almost shriek her lines? Evans is absolutely adorable; there’s no need to have her compete with the madness.

Alice in Wonderland runs through June 15 and is recommended for kindergarten age and older. Use discretion if you’re thinking of bringing younger children.

 

 

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