Alice Experiments in Wonderland
Adapted by John Schafer from a novel by Lewis Carroll
Directed by John Schafer, Gerd Hauck, and George Brown
UCF Conservatory Theater in conjunction with Bradley University and The University of Waterloo
Orlando, FL; Waterloo, Ontario; and Peoria, IL
The first derivative of Surrealism is Absurdism, and the second derivative is Chaos. Chaos was all I saw in this ambitious yet seriously flawed attempt to add a new technical dimension to the theater experience. Like the multi-media fad of the early 70’s, this show takes video projectors to an unnatural level with concurrent productions of this sub-MST3K experiment in Orlando, Ontario and Peoria. Little Alice (Laura Adams in Orlando, Johanna Roden and Kate Teddiman elsewhere) argue with The Book (Brian Gell) over the relative merits of print vs. Googlepedia.com. A set of Technowizards (Kyle Adkins, Jeff Ulrich, and Tahnee Lamon, all in cyberspace) work to resolve the IT problems in the script with Indian call center efficiency while the Cheshire Cat (Brittany Dobbs in Orlando, Ciaran Meyers and Rachael Waldon elsewhere) struts around looking sexy. Alice decides to become queen, which involves avoiding the Jabberwocky while meeting all of Wonderlands other denizens. As someone helpfully points out 5 or 6 times, “it’s just like a video game.” Yes, indeed – just like a FORTRAN based text game.
What all this razzle lacks is a decent story. Schafer’s adaptation focuses on obsolete computer jokes that lost their punch around 1992, and what passes for conflict or character development involves strident whining and frenetic motion devoid of purpose. If anything saves this evening from a total Blue Screen of Death, its Heather Henson’s amazing puppets. The Caterpillar (Michael Beaman in Orlando, Kimberlee Walke in Waterloo) wiggles out swathed in green pool noodles and chop stick fur, and the Gnat (Brendan Rogers in Orlando, Shawn Forgeron and Devin Kelly elsewhere) was brilliant in his baroque faceted eyes and stilt walking arms. The Jabberwocky only appeared in video, but seemed reminiscent of last year’s “Heart of Coal” monster.
“Alice in Wonderland” is a tempting target of adaptation – brilliant imagery, fluid plot, and no copyright restrictions, but its one rarely handled successfully. Perhaps “Titus Andronicus” or “The Crucible” would have faired better in this COMDEX style of distributed presentation with its audio latency problems and style over content emphasis. Still, nothing makes my blood run cold like a director opening a show with an admonition against cell phone usage and an apology for what was about to happen on stage. Mr. Shafer, I accept your apology. At least you tried something new…
For more information on UCF Conservatory Theatre, visit http://www.theatre.ucf.edu