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San Francisco by Richard Connema

Alice in Wonderland is a
Wild and Wonderful Hoot

Also see Richard's reviews of Ennio, Seussical and Love, Janis

Marin Shakespeare Company is presenting a hilarious and campy Alice in Wonderland at the amphitheatre on the Dominican University of California campus, running in repertory with King Lear through August 20th. This wonderful fantasy by Lewis Carroll has been filmed numerous times and there have been copious stage versions, especially in the UK.

It is a challenge to find something brand new to add to the staging of this classic tale of the adventures of Alice, but Marin Shakespeare's managing director Lesley Schisgall Currier has adapted a wild and wonderful version. The tale is tricky stuff to dramatize since it is mostly episodic and pun heavy; however, Lesley Schisgall Currier has assembled a superb cast of comic actors to make it one of the campiest versions you will ever see. It is presented in two 40-minute acts.

Billie Cox of Ross composed all of the music specifically for this production. The score includes a polka for "The Lobster Song" and an old fashioned vaudeville number for the White Rabbit, played by Jack Powell. He is polished in his singing and dancing of this number. A song for Alice (played by Hannah Rose Kornfeld) is called "Father William" and it is sung beautifully. A jazzy rendition of "Jabberwocky" is sung by Cat Thompson with sass.

In Alice's route into Wonderland, she encounters The Mad Hatter (Darren Bridgett), the smoking caterpillar (George McGuire), the fat duchess (Matthew Henerson), the Mouse (Darren Bridgett), the Mock turtle (John Basiulis) and the Queen of Hearts (Mary Knoll). I give high marks to the cast, who are really enjoying themselves and turn in good performances. Hannah Rose Kornfeld is a perfect Alice. She has great clearness of diction and a wonderful range of expressions, from naivety to astuteness as the farce continues. She is pleasing in the singing and dancing scenes.

Darren Bridgett is a laugh riot playing the Mouse, the Mad Hatter and The Cook. As the mouse, he must recite a dull history of William the Conqueror so the cast can dry out after coming from the ocean onto the shore. He does it in side-splitting fractured French out of a Monty Python skit. He jumps off the stage and comes into the audience to tantalize the folks, taking food from some, drinking wine, and teasing this writer about a good review. The actor gives a tour de force of comic acting and he is outstanding in the Mad Hatter's tea party in the second act.

George Maquire gives Darren a run for his money when it comes to comic performances. In one of the opening scenes, he uses a Carol Channing voice when speaking his lines. George has an amazing, amiable face that changes with each comic situation. As part of the Mad Hatter's tea party, he gives an engaging performance with just his facial expressions. The talented actor also plays the Caterpillar as a disdainful character. In the court scene at the end he plays the King as a bumbling fool.

John Basiulis is magnetizing as the Mock Turtle with his slow monotone voice. The audience hangs onto every work as he relates his tale of going to school in the sea. Matthew Henerson is a real hoot playing the Duchess in an outfit that looks something like a Mikado of Japan. His high falsetto is perfect in the role. Jack Powell shines as the nervous white rabbit.

Emily McGowan as the door mouse at the tea party is entrancing as she attempts to tell a story for the guests. Her squeaky voice is charming. Cat Thompson as the Cheshire Cat is sensual, especially when singing the Jabberwocky song. Mary Knoll does an impressive deadpan job as the Queen of Hearts, and when she says "off with their heads," she means it. Actor and pianist Michael Wiles, who portrays Lewis Carroll and performs much of the music, is excellent in both.

Alice In Wonderland is brilliant with striking costumes by Michael A. Berg, a minimal set design by Bruce Lackovic and good lighting by Ellen Brooks. This is a production for the young children and for the child in every one of us.

Alice in Wonderland will run in repertory with King Lear through August 20th at the Forest Meadows Amphitheatre, Grand Ave, Dominican University of California, San Rafael. Tickets can be obtained by calling 415-499-4488 or visiting www.marinshakepeare.org. The company will present for its final offering of the summer, William Shakespeare's The Comedy of Errors opening on September 1 and running through September 24.


Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Richard Connema



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