Regional Reviews: Raleigh/Durham
Alice @ Wonderland
Also see Garrett's review of Leaving Eden
This Alice (Audrey Jones) seems to live on her cell phone, fully dependent on the luxuries of technology, but somewhat disconnected because of it. Soon enough, though, the story heads in the expected direction with a chase and then a fall down a rabbit hole. All the familiar characters are here, including the Mad Hatter and March Hare (the delightful Sean Allen and Will van Deventer, respectively) and the Queen of Hearts (a wickedly enjoyable Laura Levine). Alice has no cell service in Wonderland and cannot Google answers to any of the riddles she must solve, so she'll have to rely on her own wits and personality to find her way home.
Yukich has folded modern-day banter into the familiar original dialogue, and he introduces the theme of living more in the "real world" and spending less time on our devices. After the beginning scenes, though, that aspect of the play seems to fade, and Alice does not seem to learn anything that might change her relationship with her phone. There is an interesting opportunity here that might not be fully realized.
Director Chasta Hamilton has given the production a professional polish. The whimsical set design by Jeannine Borzello (seemingly inspired in equal part by M.C. Escher and Salvador Dali) shifts from black-and-white reality to a brilliantly hued Wonderland. Kaitlin Rider's lighting makes a similar jump from sepia to swirling colors. Some lighting cues, however, were a bit off during the performance I attended, especially closely timed changes involving the entrances and exits of the Cheshire Cat. That role, split by Audrey Leiser and Adair Mahoney, involves clever tricks of focus that are effective but perhaps overused. Sound designer Ryan Cooper enlivens manic dance breaks (any time someone says "Wonderland") and scene changes with clever cues like Lavern Baker's classic "Tweedle Dee" to introduce the Tweedle Twins (Portia Muehlbauer and Brittany Petrimoulx). A highlight of the production is Vicki Olson's costume design, which makes these characters both familiar and fresh.
Audrey Jones is in her element, enlivening Alice with the sarcasm and attitude familiar to anyone who knows pre-teens today. Laura Levine's Queen of Hearts satisfyingly blends Walt Disney and Tim Burton's versions, and Barney Weaver as her King of Hearts is constant in his humor from the moment he sets foot on stage. Will van Deventer is a manic standout as the March Hare, seemingly inexhaustible in his hopping. The whole cast is a delight.
Though not a perfect play, Alice @ Wonderland invites us to turn off our phones for just one hour (a fitting length for young audience members) and rediscover the absurd joys and clever constructions of Lewis Carroll's classic. The real world will be waiting when you get back.
Alice @ Wonderland, through April 22, 2018, in the Cantey V. Sutton Theatre at the Raleigh Little Theatre, 301 Pogue St., Raleigh NC. Tickets are $18 for adults, $12 for children 12 and under. Tickets can be purchased online at www.raleighlittletheatre.org or by phone at 919-821-3111.
Playwright: Jonathan Yukich