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Philadelphia by Tim Dunleavy

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
Quintessence Theatre Group

Emiley Kiser and Khris Davis
In a show staged with lots of darkness and shadows, Quintessence Theatre's latest production makes one thing crystal clear: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is one seriously weird children's story. Well, perhaps "seriously" is the wrong word—there's nothing about director Alexander Burns' staging that's remotely serious. And that's what makes it so good. Playwright Simon Reade's adaptation emphasizes the playful tenor of Lewis Carroll's novel, and Burns and his crew add a dash of visual invention that suits the lighthearted tone very well.

Part of what makes Quintessence's production so distinctive are the black light effects concocted by dance/theatre troupe ArcheDream for HUMANKIND. Whether making the Cheshire Cat materialize out of the darkness or making Alice seem to float through the air, the effects are always clever and funny. There's also a dash of visual wit to match the dexterity of Carroll's words. Even when Burns serves up the occasional anachronism—a haughty Duchess (Anita Holland) who takes selfies, or a Mad Hatter (Johnny Smith) who dons a wool cap and turns into a rapper—it never seems out of place. David Cope's trippy music is a good fit, too, as is Kaki Burns' choreography.

Things get a bit confusing from time to time, partly due to the torrent of words and partly due to the multiple roles played by several actors; still, even the kids in the audience shouldn't get worried if they can't tell a Dodo from a Gryphon. Reade does make a jarring misstep in his weak, tacked-on epilogue, which takes the viewer out of the story in a contrived way. And a scene in which actor Khris Davis veers away from the script and makes jokes about random audience members falls flat. (As the mystified target of one of Davis' ad-libbed barbs, I'll be kind and say that improvisation does not appear to be his strongest suit.)

Alice is usually portrayed as confused and indignant, but as played here by Emily Kiser, she's spunky and ebullient, laughing and dancing along with everyone else. But who can blame her? She's enjoying her time in Wonderland—and chances are you will too.

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland runs through January 4, 2015, and is presented by Quintessence Theatre Group at Sedgwick Theater, 7137 Germantown Ave. Ticket prices are $27 - $34, with discounts available for students and seniors, and are available online at, or by visiting the box office.

Photo: Shawn May

-- Tim Dunleavy

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