Greenbelt Arts Center Alice in WonderlandBy Xandra Weaver • Nov 21st, 2011 • Category: Reviews
Greenbelt Arts Center
Greenbelt Community Arts Center, Greenbelt, MD
Through December 3rd
1:20 with no intermission
Reviewed November 19th, 2011
The Greenbelt Arts Center took a leap into the avant-garde with their new production. They dropped the audience down the rabbit hole into a strange and artistic world. The production Alice in Wonderland, originally penned by Lewis Carroll, but adapted for stage by The Manhattan Project in New York. This iteration, directed by Betsy Marks Delaney (former ShowBizRadio reviewer – Ed.), sent the audience careening into a stylistic production that made excellent use of pantomime, physical comedy and representational scenery.
The show used the classic story of Alice, a young girl who falls into the world of Wonderland. Along her journey she meets a White Rabbit, two queens, a host of animals, and a Mad Hatter. Her adventures are presented as a series of disconnected vignettes.
Delaney’s visual concepts kept the stage in a constant state of flux. Her best utilized element being the idea of performers changing their appearance and person to demonstrate useful objects. The actual props and set dressing were very limited, which seemed a very good choice for the production, as there was little to no time wasted on changing scenes.
Alice was the only one of the cast to stay in the same costume throughout. This allowed the supporting cast to change shape and character to set the scene, either being used as set and props, or as the creatures Alice meets. A particularly well executed vignette was the scene where Alice must find a key within a room of locked doors so she can follow the White Rabbit. One performer represented a table; the other became a door and propelled the scene forward offering whispered ideas and encouragements to Alice while she searched.
The costumes were understandably and intentionally limited, as there was no time for full outfit changes. Instead, each character had a few items added to their overall ensemble to create different people using the same base. The costumes attempted to emulate the up-and-coming steampunk genre, which combines Victorian fashion with H.G. Wells inspired industrial-esque gadgets to create the illusion of steam-powered technology. While the fashion definitely resonated with the Victorian influences, it did fall short of creating a dynamic steam punk persona. The often formal costumes seemed at odds with the absurdist representation of the story, and the cast used only one actual gadget–a quick glance of a futuristic looking gun.
Each of the cast members did a fantastic job of generating energy, feeding off of each other’s creativity and accelerating the story forward. Indeed, at times they seemed absolutely tireless. Actors chased each other around, jumped on tables, and even transformed into balls and wickets for a croquet game between Alice and the Red Queen.
Ryan Willis served as a narrator of sorts, even as part of the tunnel Alice stylistically falls down. He quickly transformed into a door, then a mouse, and so forth. His greatest achievement was the deep voiced, hookah smoking caterpillar, whose clear baritone resonated around the intimate space and filled it up.
Kathleen Mil, who was billed as the White Queen, also did a fantastic job switching characters, the most memorable of which included the Dodo and the March Hare.
Another well formed character was produced by ensemble member Susanne Bard, who created a very funny Dormouse for the Mad Hatter’s party. She demonstrated great comedic timing as she fell asleep and snored in between her character’s lines, then awoke to loudly proclaim nonsense in an affected lisp, which got good responses from the audience.
The Red Queen, Ronda Anstead, was comical while bashing people over the head with an inflatable mallet and proclaiming her punishment of decapitation, but also whimsical while playing the Cheshire Cat.
Alice, played by Liz Cassedy, was a very dynamic and energetic character. However, her voice needed some tuning, as she often pitched her words too high and became overwhelmingly loud in the intimate theater. Her character was also repeatedly petulant at the situations around her, which overshadowed some of the best moments when Alice simply gave in and enjoyed the chaos around her. It was in those moments where she yielded to imagination and played pretend with her crazy playmates that she was the most likeable.
Overall, the biggest fault of the play was the storytelling style. The goal was to create an avant-garde production in the style of The Manhattan Project, but the disjointed narration and lack of focus of this production had a tendency to allow scenes to drift into an absurdist spectacle. Vignettes were consistently undefined for the audience until midway through the scene. For instance, Alice’s race with three birds, costumed mostly with feather boas, did not identify the three characters until shortly before the next scene. Despite great body language, the audience could not be sure what was being presented.
The other problem was the lack of voice control. The dialogue was frequently lost because the actors voices pitched their voice too high or spoke too loudly. Sometimes it was lost simply because there was too much going on at the same time. The Greenbelt Arts Center has a very intimate black box theater, with the audience on three sides of the playing area, but the voices they used would have better suited a larger space.
Considered as a whole, the production was energetic, creative and dynamic, but there was little effective connection with the audience. The cast took a curious story and made it “curiouser and curiouser!” The end result was a colourful and absurdly lively spectacle, and while the audience may not have followed every twist of the maze, they were definitely taken on a whirlwind journey.
Volumes have been written about Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, better known by his pen name, Lewis Carroll. His novels Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the LookingGlass were by no means his only published creative works, but they are certainly the most famous. Translations of his first book exist for over thirty languages.
The genesis of our particular (and some will likely say) peculiar version of Alice’s story has its genesis in the free thinking avant-garde movement of the early 70s that brought us Hair and Godspell among others. These theatre pieces sought to connect and share their stories with contemporary audiences in the counter-culture Age of Aquarius.
Enigmatic actor/director Andre Gregory’s extraordinary vision of theatre failed to fit the idea of mainstream theatre so completely tha the eventually quit to become a lawyer, but not before founding The Manhatten Project (TMP), a company he started with a group of students from New York University in 1968. The members of TMP developed their storytelling over time, creating a pure form of theatre as art and for art’s sake, with minimal costumes, props and scenery. Building on words and movement, they captured the essence of their stories, leaving audiences free to imagine the details. Alice… premiered in 1972 after over two years of development. Their treatment of Alice…, which borrows liberally from both books, was so well received that they toured internationally for five years after opening in New York. Gregory eventually received a special OBIE Award and a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Director. Our cast of six brings this surreal fairy tale to life, following the winding, random path devised by TMP, with the help of some modern inspiration based on artists who have also been influenced by Carroll’s timeless tale.
I own at least five print editions of Alice/Looking-Glass, (two of which belonged to my grandfather–the 1898 edition is featured on Wikipedia’s Alice… page), at least five movies including an amazing little sleeper called Dreamchild and, yes, Disney’s version. There’s also a vinyl boxed recording of Nicol Williamson reciting the book and a copy of The Complete, Fully Illustrated Works. In addition to these, there are four theatrical versions in my script collection. As big a fan as I am of the original stories, TMP’s version comes closets to capturing the wild nonsense and sheer fun of the piece. I hope you will enjoy it as much as I have.
Photos by Jeffery Lesniak
- Alice: Liz Cassedy
- Kathleen (White Queen, et al.): Kathleen Mil
- Ronda (Red Queen, et al.): Ronda Ansted
- Ryan (Mad Hatter, et al.): Ryan Willis
- Susanne (Duchess, et al.): Susanne Bard
- Director: Betsy Marks Delaney
- Producer: Norma R. Ozur
- Stage Manager: Kristi Gardner
- Technical Director: Jeffery Lesniak
- Set Designer: Betsy Marks Delaney
- Set Construction Crew: Kathleen Mil, Brendan Perry, Jeffery Lesniak, Den Giblin, Betsy Marks Delaney & Cast
- Lighting Designer: Scott Candey
- Sound Designer: Trix Whitehall
- Costume Designer: Ronda Anstead
- Costume Assistants: Lori Ann Denn & Cast
- Props Mistress: Patricia Evans
- Props Assistant: Malca Giblin
- Lighting Technician: Molly Scrivens
- Light Board Operators: Scott Candey, Molly Scrivens
- Lighting Assistant: Bobby Candey
- Sound Board Operator: Trix Whitehall, Penny Martin
- Art Design / Publications: Betsy Marks Delaney
- Photographer: Jeffery Lesniak
- Front of House Manager: Dotty Spivacke
Disclaimer: Greenbelt Arts Center provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.
This article can be linked to as: http://washingtondc.showbizradio.com/goto/7379.
Xandra Weaver has a great love of the process of theater and the creation of art that has led her into working both behind the scenes and onstage. Her career includes working for many years providing sound and lights for both professional and amateur shows as well as makeup work for a feature film. At college, she specialized in makeup to earn her theater degree, and discovered a love for directing and playwrighting. She's also been a nominee for the DC area theater WATCH awards for her work with the company of The Producers with The Arlington Players.