Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore

Amy Danielson

 

The temporary union of two theater companies gives birth to one of the most daedal interpretations of Alice in Wonderland. The Jeunelunization of The Children’s Theatre ñ by director Dominique Serrand, costume designer Sonya Berlovitz and several Jeune Lune company actors ñ transforms this production into a visually stunning and physically magical piece of work. With Serrand’s surreal sense of staging superimposed on this already abstract story, only the unexpected can be anticipated.

From the onset, the Jeune Lune artistry is striking and unmistakable. Alongside Serrand’s famously inventive sense of stagecraft, audiences will immediately notice how Sonya Berlovitz’s costumes make the story’s familiar characters entirely alien. The most unexpected casting choice is to have multiple actors playing Alice, sometimes at the same time. Usually the role is played by Jeune Lune company member Sarah Agnew, whose Alice (pronounced Ay-liss) proves to be endlessly thrilled by her bizarre adventures. But she is occasionally replaced onstage by an identically costumed Brian Baumgartner, and enormous man with a great, bellowing voice.

All of Berlovitz’s costumes create a sense of a dream-like state ñ her costume’s are askew, her designs are jagged. For example, the Alices wear sheer skirts with patchworks of almost indistinguishable blues and ruffles puffing out the back. Similarly, shirts of the same iridescent blue fabrics display one sleeve adorning a white ruffle, one not. Revealing the increasing asymmetry of the designs for this show, the White Rabbit (Dean Holt) dons polka-dotted pants with one leg cropped significantly higher than the other, and a patchwork jacket of an otherwise incompatible hodgepodge of fabrics and colors.

Even the exposed brick set seems like it arrived directly from the Jeune Lune; however Scott Bradley, who has worked everywhere but the Jeune Lune, designed it.

As for Serrand’s direction, it is filled with disquieting flourishes: A disco ball-faced Alice; Agnew writing on the floor (not unexpectedly, as all Jeune Lune actors seem to spend much of their time sprawled across the stage); a camera on the ceiling projects her image as she twists and rolls, transforming her gestures into an extended plummet, superimposed atop a nightmarish cityscape. The projection also serves to show us the characters Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum as they pedal their bicycles around town.

This production transcends presumption with its spectacular ingenuity. an industrial-sized leaf blower emerges to blow leaves out from under Alice’s feet. Humpty Dumpty (redubbed Humpty Dumpstery) sits atop your average dumpster and advises the meaning of poems: “Madame Butterfly goes to the Leaning Tower of Eiffel in Liverpool Hey Jude.” Body parts of several Alices struggle to simultaneously surface from a manhole. Silly string serves as baby-sneeze. A swing descends from the stage for Alice to swing with a stilt-walking pink flamingo. A look of astonishment on Alice’s face projects onto the back wall as she peers through the tiny door into a garden.

And while some moments made the entire audience gasp ñ and numerous children scream ñ most of the children wildly enjoyed the show on opening night. One little girl of about three had this to say: “I love it. It’s funny. I can’t even understand it!”

Most thrilling about this production is the degree of uncertainty, whimsy, and breath-taking beauty as this interpretation of the story intertwines with what we’ve seen in other productions, read or watched on film. On occasion, the cast breaks into song, reciting silly lyrics such as, “It would have made a rather ugly child, but it makes a rather handsome pig.” Like an Old World circus, the show captivates, speaks to the audience, and shocks while it charms.

 

Alice in Wonderland plays through June 15 at the Children’s Theatre Company, (612) 874-0400.