Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe

Alice in Wonderland
Vortex Theatre
Review by Sheridan Johnson

Also see Mark's review of Bus Stop


The Cast
Photo by Jason Ponic
"One can't believe in impossible things."
"Then you haven't had enough practice."
—Alice and the White Queen, Alice in Wonderland

Alice in Wonderland, currently playing at the Vortex Theatre, offers all the practice you'll need. Audiences get a crash course in imagining and believing all the most perfect intangible things life has to offer: magic, a sense of self and growth, adventure, friendship, and (of course) little white rabbits.

Alice in Wonderland is familiar to most of us, but in many different ways. One cast member auditioned for the play after reading the book to his daughter. You may know it from the Disney cartoon, or one of the several live-action movies, or from some of the more startlingly dark and adult adaptations of Lewis Carroll's classic that weave their way across stages every year. This is not, thankfully, any of those Alices. This Alice is brand new.

If you arrive early, you will hear the cast whooping and warming up, giving an aura of the guttural collaboration that you're about to witness before you even enter the small, black box theater. The music before the show sounds like adventure; the theater-in-the-round staging invites you in; the self-awareness present in Lauren Albonico's adaptation as Alice asks her guide, Lewis (of course), "are you the Cheshire Cat now?" keeps your mind active. Every aspect of this theatrical experience screams fun and adventure, and the dozens of kids in the audience clearly took part.

Indeed, perhaps one of the most rewarding parts of the show for me was watching the twenty-five kids present at the Sunday matinee moving toward the edges of their seats, pointing out characters they recognized and jokes they loved. If one of the goals of the show is to enrich and inspire the creative minds of audiences young and old, Alice in Wonderland's mission was accomplished ten fold.

The show clips along at a short 90 minutes. Some scenes are more exciting than others, and it's possible a few could have been cut. The most stunning moments of creative genius (and there are several) are most often found in the large, erupting groups scenes. The actors create entire worlds with soundscapes and personalities using just their mouths and maybe some kitchenware.

While the cast is uniformly strong and offers a wide array of talents, ranging from gymnastic to musical to sheer acting chops, Christy Lopez steals the show as the Queen of Hearts and a particularly sassy bird. Every time she enters as a new character, she lights up the stage; I could feel the energy of the audience shift. She performs with a combination of commitment, delight, and grace that we rarely get to see on stage, and I can't tell you how happy it made me to watch her shine in this production.

Director Lauren Albonico, who adapted the script and brought this stellar group together, is the other star of the show. It seems clear that this project was ripped from her imagination, and the product is a beautiful gift. The completely original costume design deserves extra praise as well. Each piece feels organic and in synch with the character and the rest of the production—especially the caterpillar's, which seems to have been ripped out of a rave, but nevertheless not too heavy-handed about it.

Alice in Wonderland is exactly what Albuquerque needs. It's inclusive, imaginative, intelligent, and heart felt. It seems to be a true labor of love for all involved, and that love is contagious. I hope everyone takes 90 minutes out of their weekend to play with the bright and swirling world of Alice in Wonderland. Like every good adventure, you're bound to learn something along the way.

Alice in Wonderland is playing through January 29, 2017, Friday and Saturday at 7pm Sunday at 2pm, at The Vortex Theatre, 2900 Carlisle Blvd. NE, Albuquerque. Tickets are available at www.vortexabq.org.


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