Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – Curious Her
First of all, let me say this: The Bad Oracle does not often review family theater, so for those of you who may be parents and/or grandparents that are just tuning in, no, we don’t think we could write the reviews without the cursing, please. I’ll hold it down for this one, but if you go poking around (or you read the disclaimer in the sidebar) you might well see the eff word, I’m warning you right now. Open Space Arts is a true community theater of the the type you don’t see often: lots of community members, though most seem to be in their teens (some quite young) and early twenties. They are, at their heart, an educational institution, so adjust your expectations accordingly. That isn’t to say that, because they are junior artmakers in our community, the show wasn’t good. In fact, a large portion of more polished Wonderlands I’ve seen have been giant yawns. This one wasn’t. I was delighted to see that the adaptation by Cory Wilmarth included some of the lesser known portions of the books (The Caucus race! The Lobster Quadrille!). Wilmarth also rewards close listening to the jokes that go racing by: I heard an Elvis reference, allll of the answers to the famous writing desk riddle and some startlingly current wordplay. Beyond the script, though, there are truly fresh and exciting ideas here and some frankly impressive performances. Director Elora Maisenhelder brings a “Cirque” inspired Wonderland to the table. She wisely keeps the theme restrained enough that it doesn’t bulldoze right over the heart of the story – it’s managed in small touches in the physicality and costuming. Not all of her choices worked for me (there’s a portion in the Tweedledee (Mark Dylan Ordaz) and Tweedledum (Connor Dyke) section where the action leaves the stage for far too long) but she takes risks that largely pay off. Alice’s (Chloe Heles) acrobatic trip down the rabbit hole is quite clever and physically grand, for instance, and the way that the Cheshire Cat’s (Chris De Bow) monologue is spooky and dark, a welcome break from the frantic. I also like how Maisenhelder encourages the audience to fill in the blanks in our heads. The issue I have with many an Alice is the fussiness. Getting lost in the tech can be a fun challenge for a company, but it’s a little boring to have it all spelled out. Here, simple gestures suggest magical properties, such as way Alice is able to grow and shrink. Speaking of that, Wonderland is really a show that is only as good as its lead and Chloe Heles certainly pulls it off. Her Alice has just the whiff of the spoiled brat about her, which is the right way to go, I think. She’s pert and impertinent, approaching her trip down the hole with amusing matter-of-factness. Heles is blasé enough to make it very cute when the little girl in her shines through – watch how she says “And I had tea with grown-ups!” for instance. She could slow down a little in her delivery, but that’s a nitpick. Connor Dyke puts a fabulous spin on the Mad Hatter, so often the character is Johnny Depped out to mondo weirdness, but he works more with a timidness that is hilarious, especially in the courtroom scene. Sade Ali-bey’s March Hare is delightful and much of the work between she, Dyke and Heles in the most faaaaamous tea scene is lovely. Salone Barry and Mark Dylan Ordaz are surprise audience favorites as The Mock Turtle and Gryphon. Barry’s comic timing is stellar and the fully staged Lobster Quadrille is maximum silliness for maximum impact. These two oughta take it on the road. Eric Boelsche drops by (haven’t seen him in awhile) as an appropriately snobby caterpillar and Angela Wright steals a lot of the scenes she’s in, especially as a croakily corpulent Frog Footman. Chris De Bow is quite the QT as a punked-up Cheshire Cat. I appreciated that he manages to seem sinister without going too far with the vibe and squicking everyone out, Alice is only a little girl, after all. Paris Brown’s Duchess isn’t winning mother of the year, but when your child spontaneously pigs out, who can blame you? Josie Shaffer’s White Rabbit is adorable, squeaking through with lift and bounce, and Randi Seepersad has quite the screech on her, cutting a figure as The Queen of Hearts. The performances are pretty wonderful, especially given the relative age group, but the show falls down in the tech. Unfortunately, Open Space appears to have much less of an educational emphasis on technical theater and here, it shows. Part of that is that the group was only able to rehearse for a short time in the space, but more coordination between the lighting, stage hands, etc, would avoid embarrassing miss cues. Transitions also need a major look, as they were too long and interfered with the story flow. There is a big exception to this note, however, and that is in the costumes. Maisenhelder’s costumes are stunning. Seriously stunning. The Queen of Hearts is a lite-burlesque dream, a literal gasp went up around me when she entered the stage. There are so many beautiful costume details, both large (there’s an entire mean girl flower garden!) and small (Alice’s striped leggings) that are so smart. Touches like the March Hare’s ears being made out of her hair and the white fur vest that says “mouse” suggest a thoughtfulness that I rarely see, even on the professional stage. Well done.
BOTTOM LINE: If you’re looking for a technically polished Alice in Wonderland, you aren’t going to find it with Open Space Art’s production. If you’re looking for a junior theater take on this old story that is more risky than most, more thoughtful in performance, more clever in design and more interesting to watch, that’s what you’ll get here. Wake up, y’all, this is what’s next. I was impressed.
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