ALICE’s ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND (Quintessence): Mystifying appearances and disappearances, levitations and mysterious goings-on at Mount Airy’s Sedgwick Theater

Johnny Smith (as The Baby), Emiley Kiser (as Alice) in ALICE"S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND. Photo by Shawn May.

Johnny Smith (as The Baby), Emiley Kiser (as Alice) in ALICE”S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND. Photo by Shawn May.

For the latest installment in their tradition of performing literary family classics for the holidays, Quintessence Theatre Group has brought ALICE’S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND with its parade of beloved batty characters to Sedgwick Theater. The Jabberwocky poem is scrawled in large letters all over the wall in the lobby. Although not actually in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, the poem sets a slithy Lewis Carroll tone as the audience enters the theater. Everyone’s reminded that Carroll, permeated with oddness, uses figurative words literally and vice versa and makes words up willy nilly as he tells the story.

While clever and quirky, the Quintessence show, which was adapted by Simon Reade and imported from England, does not take a snarky or suggestive approach to the story that would be inappropriate for children. In fact, this show is just the thing for kids who like to play with words and are engaged by the different ways they’re used, who have some familiarity with the story, and who are old enough to sit quietly for an hour and 45 minutes’ entertainment. (Note for families with kids: There is an intermission.)  But this production doesn’t come across as a children’s show per se. The audience for the performance I attended was composed of almost all adults, many of whom were laughing out loud.  It’s a fine show for anyone, really, including grumpy old people. The one I brought with me had a good time.

Emiley Kiser as Alice in Quintessence Theatre's production of 'Alice's Adventures In Wonderland.'

Emiley Kiser as Alice in Quintessence Theatre’s production of ‘Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland.’

The stage doesn’t look like much at first. Spaces are achieved along the way by creating and deconstructing performance areas on the fly. This includes going vertical, as Quintessence will often do. The scenic space shape-shifting works particularly well in a story where the central character shrinks and grows.

Mystifying appearances and disappearances and strange levitations and movements of objects occur thanks to the dramatic possibilities opened up by blacklight technology, courtesy of ArcheDream for HUMANKIND. The blacklights along with David A. Sexton’s stage lighting and Jane Casanave’s and ArcheDream’s strange costumes facilitate the fabulous and mysterious goings-on and contribute to the charm of the characters’ carefully realized peculiarities.

The one disappointment in the set design dept is the garden. Much anticipated by Alice, you’d expect it to be at least pretty, maybe with roses or more overall weird wonderfulness.

Music & Song List
Music by David Cope.
Lyrics by Lewis Carroll.
(Some lyrics re-arranged by Simon Reade.)

  • The Overture
  • Down, Down, Down (Alice Falls Down The Rabbit Hole)
  • The Cat Song (The French Mouse)
  • What (Alice)
  • Speak Roughly (The Duchess, The Cook and The Cheshire Cat)
  • The Tea Party Seat Shuffle
  • The Lobster Quadrille
  • Beautiful Soup (The Mock Turtle)
  • Dream Child (Alice)
  • How Doth The Little Crocodile (The Ensemble)
  • Christmas Greetings – From A Fairy to a Child (The Ensemble)

The music and songs for Quintessence’s production, custom designed by mega talented David Cope, define this production. Officially this is a play with music.  But as director Alex Burns points out, “Quintessence elaborates on the use of song and dance in the script and approaches all of the musical numbers as musical theatre.” The intricate and funny Lobster Quadrille, so well composed and executed music-wise and performance-wise, is a highlight. Alice exclaims, “What an interesting dance. What a curious song!” Kaki Burns choreographed this fascinating dance along with all the other robust and detailed dances.

The actors bring to life Lewis Carroll’s complicated and crazy character cosmos as adapted by Simon Reade. Emiley Kiser, taking an unfussy and direct approach, turns out a very fine Alice.  All the actors do a wonderful job with their characters’ oddities: Khris Davis gives distinct and distinguished performances as the Caterpillar and the March Hare and Gryphon. His caterpillar alone is worth the price of admission. Anita Holland works wonders with the Mouse and Duchess. Andrew Betz’s Cheshire Cat and Dormouse, and Sean Close’s White Rabbit are particularized to the last detail. Faith Fossett (who is also music director) handles the sister role and the formidable and teeteringly tall queen of Hearts. Sean Bradley’s King and Mock Turtle shine, and he sings a lovely little Mock Turtle song. Johnny Smith’s Dodo and inimitable Mad Hatter complete the cast of characters.

It’s pretty amazing that this show, imaginatively crafted with all its craziness and machinations and musical numbers, went from boo to fruition in three weeks. Quintessence’s ALICE’S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLANDachieves a shimmering, down-the-rabbithole otherness. It’s a very special show. [Sedgwick Theater, 7137 Germantown Avenue] December 10, 2014–January 4, 2015; Quintessencetheatre.org.

 

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About the author

Kathryn Osenlund, theater and film junkie, is a former National Critics Institute fellow, NEA fellow in Arts Journalism, and member of the American Theater Critics Assn Steinberg and Osborn playwriting awards committee. A Barrymore Award nominator and professor emeritus in communications and theater, Kathryn also writes for NY-based CurtainUp.com. On twitter @theatrendorphin.