Through the looking glass at Center Stage
It’s been more than 150 years since English mathematician Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (a.k.a. Lewis Carroll) introduced readers to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland — a literary classic that spawned a 1903 silent film, a 1951 Walt Disney adaptation, and a couple of Johnny Depp movies, while providing inspiration to songs, books, comics, a Web series and even a video game.
Now, Dodgson’s fantastical vision comes to Baltimore’s Center Stage in the form of a taut, brisk, mini-musical that follows Alice (Markita Prescott) through the looking glass in 75 non-stop minutes of theater.
Lookingglass Alice is an adaptation by David Catlin who, coincidentally, is a founding ensemble member of Chicago’s Lookingglass Theatre Company, which received the 2011 Tony Award for Outstanding Regional Theatre.
Alice as adolescent
While Carroll’s Alice is assumed to be about 7 years old, Prescott’s character is no child, but more an adolescent attempting to determine who she is and where she wishes to go in life.
Guiding her on her journey is “Mr. Dodgson,” played by Christopher Ramirez, who is true to the real-life Dodgson — as seen by his occasional stuttering (son of an Anglican minister, Dodgson’s stuttering kept him from pursuing the priesthood).
A mirror above a mantle “shatters,” (thanks to the use of vivid 3-D video imagery, which is used adroitly throughout the show), and Alice begins her journey “down the rabbit hole” where she first encounters the White Rabbit (Garrett Turner).
Like his fellow actors, Mr. Turner is a combination of dancer, singer, acrobat and comedian. He’s a dynamo of energy, constantly jumping, falling, posing and running, while playing multiple roles. (In addition to the White Rabbit, he also plays the White Knight, the Wicket, and the March Hare.) All of his multiple costume changes seem to happen within a few blinks of the eye.
Alice’s world is a kind of bizarre chess game, where she herself is “a pawn” (as described by the Red Queen, played by Patrice Covington). Alice needs to go forward, never backward, to reach the final square and be crowned a Queen.
A theme at the heart of the production is that, no matter what we may find before us — however odd, unexpected and challenging — maturity and wisdom come from “taking one step at a time” (another bit of Red Queen advice).
A red hot queen
If Alice is the play’s heart, Covington’s Red Queen is its hot and steamy soul — right down to her red fur wrap, red leather pencil skirt, and off-with-their-heads-axe-wielding fly girls. Strength, style and attitude personified, Covington creates a character who is supremely confident. She instills this trait in Alice as the two sing “Confident,” one of five songs that give the production its tone and beat.
Alice eventually finds herself at the Mad Hatter’s tea party where it is eternally “6 o’clock.” Played with relish by David Darrow, the Hatter is ironically hatless, but is definitely mad, both in mind and in temper. This comes out particularly when he sings “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Bat,” and ponders riddles like “Why is a raven like a writing desk?” — both plucked directly from Carroll’s work.
Director Jeremy B. Cohen breaks the fourth wall several times, including once as the play slows a moment to pluck a patron from the audience to attend the party. “Keep going, there’s no intermission!” Darrow’s Hatter exclaims, and the frenetic pace of the party continues.
Darrow also plays the Cheshire Cat and Humpty Dumpty. The latter’s linguistic legerdemain, as he verbally spars with Alice, was pure delight for this reviewer (a former English major).
A cup of piping hot tea and a plate of the Red Queen’s biscuits go to costume designer David Burdick, whose imaginative creations added wit and whimsy to the proceedings — from the Caterpillar’s folded arms, the spiky headwear of the “hedgehogs” in the Red Queen’s game of croquet, to Dodgson’s costumes as Carroll and the White Queen — a mix of Las Vegas meets P.T. Barnum.
Does Alice finally reach that final square to become a Queen? You’ll have to see the show to find out. But rest assured, she certainly finds her voice, as Ms. Prescott reveals a singing talent that once caught the ear of legendary performer Michael Jackson.
Lookingglass Alice runs at Center Stage, 700 N. Calvert St. in downtown Baltimore, through Dec. 31.Tickets are $25 to $74 and are available at www.centerstage.org or by calling the box office at (410) 332-0033. The play is meant to be enjoyed by both adults and children over 6.