Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Raleigh/Durham

Alice @ Wonderland
Raleigh Little Theatre
Review by Garrett Southerland

Also see Garrett's review of Leaving Eden


Audrey Jones
Photo by Elly McClanahan
Just when you think a familiar story might have outlived its appeal, another version pops up to give it fresh life and perhaps remind audiences what they loved about it in the first place. "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" by Lewis Carroll has had more incarnations than can be counted, but Jonathan Yukich gives it a twenty-first century spin that will entertain young and old alike as Alice @ Wonderland, presented by Raleigh Little Theatre at the Cantey V. Sutton Theatre through April 22.

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
Director: Chasta Hamilton
Scenic Design: Jeannine Borzello
Lighting Design: Kaitlin Rider
Costume Design: Vicki Olson
Sound Design: Ryan Cooper

Cast:
Alice: Audrey Jones
White Rabbit: Nia Johnson
Queen of Hearts: Laura Levine
Caterpillar: Christopher McBennett
Frog-Newsie: Samiyah Aires-Rust
Fish-Newsie: Carter Phillips
Cheshire Cat: Audrey Leiser, Adair Mahoney
Mad Hatter: Sean Allen
March Hare: Will van Deventer
Dormouse/Queen's Guard: Ayla Church
Tweedledum: Portia Muehlbauer
Tweedledee: Brittany Petrimoulx
Humpty Dumpty: Lucy Lloyd
King of Hearts: Barney Weaver
Lilly/Door/Ensemble: Eura Reynolds
Door/Queen's Guard/Ensemble: Claire Fellows
Tiny Door/Queen's Guard/Ensemble: Sara Frantz
Rose/Door/Ensemble: Madeline Epstein-Nelson
Violet/Ensemble: Lexi Willibrand
Door/Daisy/Ensemble: Georgia Westwood


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