Sunday, November 20, 2005

Alice in Wonderland (Cleveland Play House)

Alex and Noah Give A Mild “Thumbs Up” to CPH’s ‘Alice In Wonderland’

Who better to review a children’s play then children? As I have done before with child centered plays, I took my grandsons, Alex (10) and Noah Berko (8) to see the Cleveland Play House’s ‘ALICE IN WONDERLAND.’

Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, better known by the pen name Lewis Carroll, was a British author, mathematician, logician, Anglican clergyman and photographer who lived in the mid to late 1800s. His most famous writings are ‘ALICE'S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND’ and its sequel ‘THROUGH THE LOOKING-GLASS.’

The original book was illustrated by the famous Sir John Tenniel. His drawings are those which usually illustrate any telling of the story. The volume was a phenomenal success, but questions still arise over the tale’s meaning. It is generally felt that the story is that of the author, and Alice is his alter ego. It is also conjectured that the entire story is a mathematical formula which when solved gives the clues for a positive philosophy by which to live one’s life.

The book has been transformed into numerous films, television shows, ice skating shows and even an interactive museum.

The story concerns Alice who “falls” down a rabbit hole and has a set of wonderful adventures as she attempts to find her way out. In reality, as the Cleveland Play House production seems to indicate, she may have just fallen asleep and dreamed the whole thing. Whatever. An adventure it is and the characters are vivid. The March Hare, the Queen of Hearts, the Mad Hatter, the White Rabbit and the Cheshire Cat are known to most children and adults in the English-speaking world.

The short, approximately one-hour adaptation by Eric Schmiedl, is a perfect length for children. Alex and Noah were alert throughout. Alex especially liked “the caterpillar” and Noah’s favorite was the vertically hanging table for the tea party with the cups and saucers held in place by magnets. He also thought Nigel, Alice’s cat (Jared Nichols, who marvelously morphed from person to feline) was “funny” and was his favorite character.

They both indicated they found several scenes “too long” and “boring after a while.” These included the trial and the tea party. Noah said that he “didn’t like it when the actors were whispering lines to each other” during the trial scene.

From an adult perspective I found the pacing rather slow. I have always thought that children’s theatre needs to have variety, action, the unusual and be participatory. This production did well on involving the audience. The unusual was taken care of with such devices as the long caterpillar with all the legs moving and the unusal placement of the tea party table. There needed to be more schticks and gimmicks, more slapstick, more glee to really grab and hold the kids attention.

A treat was the question-and-answer session following the show when the kids asked probing and fun questions of the cast. These were well handled by Kristen O’Connor, Philllip Carroll, Kevin Joseph Kelly, Colin Cook, Jared Nichols and Gilgamesh A. Tagget.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: Alex and Noah gave CPH’S ‘ALICE IN WONDERLAND’ a mild but not enthusiastic “thumbs up.”