Typically, when I want to go to Wonderland, I jump on the T and head for the Blue Line and Revere Beach. A few days ago, my journey to Wonderland took me on the Red Line to Harvard Square and the A.R.T.’s Loeb Performance Center for the current production of “Alice vs. Wonderland.” This version of the familiar story is Lewis Carroll’s coming of age tale re-imagined by the author, Brendan Shea and directed by the always imaginative Hungarian director, Janos Szasz.
The minimalist set designed by Riccardo Hernendez worked very well on the Loeb stage. Wires hung at the center of the stage taper to a vanishing point upstage at the doorway, enabling illusions of shrinking and growing – elements that are integral to the Alice saga. One of the innovations in this telling of the fairy tale was to use six different actors to portray Alice. The actors were Asian, Afro-American, and Caucasian. So, this ploy worked insofar as it presented Alice as “Every Woman” or “Every Girl.” It backfired for me, however, in that I found myself not emotionally engaged with any of the carousel of Alices. I found myself not really caring about her dilemma. In that regard, the train to Wonderland went off the tracks a bit.
In the author’s notes, Shea makes explicit what is implicit on stage: “Wonderland, to me, represents the gauntlet each of us must go through on our way to adulthood.” Even with the understanding that the story of Alice’s adventures is intended to be a topsy-turvy, confusing romp, I found it difficult to see all of the vignettes coalescing into a meaningful whole. The overall feel for me at the end of the evening was that I had wandered into a dress rehearsal for a performance by a very gifted troupe of improvisational actors. And what an ensemble cast it is. Drawn from the student body of the A.R.T./Moscow Arts Theater’s Institute for Advanced Theater Training, the cast of young actors were terrific. Their energy, creativity, versatility and sense of fun and whimsy carried the evening. It was their artistry that at the end of the day made my evening in Wonderland a worthwhile journey through the looking glass.
The show runs through Saturday, October 9. I encourage you to see it.