One of the shocks of childhood is the realization that adults can be even more capricious and absurd than children. Although some pretend that life is predictable and logical, adulthood is often chaotic, replete with characters whose motivations are difficult to decipher. Enter the Alice in Wonderland at the Children’s Theater Company, a flashy and high-energy production that left me wondering what is stranger: the cheshire cat’s floating smile or my next door neighbor’s hundreds of socks left to dry on the line every week. That’s a lot of socks.
The play opens on Alice in a tutoring session. But while Alice’s tutor expects her to pay attention to history for hours at a time, the Children’s Theater Company doesn’t take a second of its audience’s attention for granted. The opening scene before Alice’s wacky dream is as brief as possible, and director Peter Brosius has the audience in Wonderland within about ninety seconds. Once there, Brosius uses every resource at his disposal to engage the audience, including a range of flashing lights and a cacophony of sound effects that, while wondrous at first, left me feeling a bit woozy by the end. He could have gone without some of the flash because the best moments in this production are the simplest ones. To reveal their details would ruin the wonder of it all, but the direction is both playful and precise, well complemented by Brian Sostek’s choreography, which includes several ingenious sight gags that pull the audience’s attention only to surprise us somewhere else.
You should see the production for the adult actors alone, as they give some of the best performances I’ve seen in Twin Cities theater. Dean Holt’s Mad Hatter and Humpty Dumpty are the highlights of this production, and Autumn Ness left us trembling after her scenes as the Queen of Hearts. Many of the children are also impressive in their ensemble roles. Of course, I could grumble–the second act went on too long, Anna Evans as Alice is left with little to do but gawk, and the inclusion of Carroll’s Jabberwocky felt out of place–but this production left me grinning for days, so those quibbles really aren’t worth your time.
Overall, Brosius could have more clearly connected the nonsense of Wonderland to the senselessness of everyday life. While he mentions that resonance in the program note, the parallel doesn’t go much further. But maybe I’m looking for something this adaptation simply wasn’t meant to deliver. After all, it’s impossible to stay grumpy during this production, and– on a day in May when summer weather seems impossibly far away– I can’t give a much better endorsement than that.
Alice in Wonderland by by Lewis Carroll, adapted for the stage by Sharon Holland, produced by the Children’s Theater Company, 2400 3rd Avenue South in Minneapolis. April 30 – June 15th, tickets $35-$45. Childrenstheatre.org