Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

For holding kids' attention, this show scores an E for effort.

Open Circle Theater opened its version of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland this past weekend in Volunteer Park, and if you thought Alice was confused by her tumble down the rabbit hole, you should have seen the faces of the kiddies in attendance. Expressions of amusement evaporated quickly into boredom, lack of interest, and an irrepressible desire to beat a hasty retreat.At just over an hour, the show is substantially shorter than last week's staging of The Wind in the Willows in the park (and features several of the same performers), but it's still not short enough to hold an audience of restless children. In fact, this production has a storyline so hard to follow that many adults were left bewilderedTadd Alexander (who seemed completely on pitch last week as Mole) is back in the park as Alice author Lewis Carroll, and every mannerism that seemed so right before now seems lifted from a leisurely study of Anthony Daniels' performances as C-3PO in the Star Wars saga. The arms jerk and twist at the wrist, the voice is that of an affected British manservant, and every gesture is articulated with a herky-jerky bonhomie that wears out its welcome in the first 30 seconds.And that's only the beginning. There was no program to accompany the show, so it's only a guess that these are largely inexperienced performers doing their level best to entertain the kiddies, and occasionally they do. There's a completely engaging Mock Turtle who makes the most of her material and can sell a song even when key, tempo, and duet partners elude her. But Alice herself has trouble projecting (and in her defense, there were literally dozens of planes overhead drowning out any possibility of following the plot unless you were in the front row), and there was a fellow playing the Red Queen in drag who's convinced that Madonna's "Like a Virgin" has some place in Alice's Wonderland. Even Carroll would have found that surreal.All of the fable's beloved characters make an appearance—the Mad Hatter, the Cheshire Cat, the hookah-smoking Caterpillar, and the rabbit who's late, late, to a very important date. But this production depends far too much on bringing everything from the storybook to the grassy knoll where it's being performed, and the result is a lot of costume clutter, props that don't serve the plot, and wasted manic energy.It's easy to appreciate the grown men and women who take time to learn their scripts, build set pieces (if not sets) and costumes, then rehearse and perform for donations on a summer day when the rest of the city is out for an afternoon of recreation. But if the show collapses under its own weight, and the kids wander off out of ennui, there really isn't anything left to do but grant an "E" for effort, with a suggestion that Open Circle try to find a solid through-line for the show, simplify it, and try again.

 
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