nytheatre.com review by Andrew Rothkin
September 3, 2011
Practically from the time it was first published in 1865, Lewis Carroll’s visionary Alice's Adventures in Wonderland—the story of a girl falling through a rabbit hole into a realm of fantastical sights, sounds and states—has been read, translated, enacted, adapted, and used as the source material and/or inspiration for likely any art form you can name. Indeed, Alice’s likeness—and those of the wondrous creatures she encounters—have graced the worlds of painting, sculpture, comic books, ballet and modern dance, opera and popular music, film, radio, television and video games, as well as a seemingly endless array of literary styles. Of course, the work has also been formed and reformed into countless live stage plays and musicals of every variety.
With its topsy-turvy landscape, “nonsensical” play of language, delightfully absurd logic—and yes, allegorical mathematics—theatrical presentations have run the gamut from the simple to the complex, from traditional to experimental, from the nightmarish to the joyful, and from the salaciously adult to a jubilation for kids.
The Beautiful Soup Theater Collective’s Alice, produced with SoHo Playhouse and running at their space, is much along the lines of the last of these: simple, fun and brimming with child-like excitement. Deftly adapted, directed and designed by Beautiful Soup artistic director Steven Carl McCasland, this Alice mostly hops along in a light, funny 55 minutes. The production is tight and polished, with the actors going from scene to scene and character to character with apparent ease and skill, guiding the audience effortlessly along their version of the kooky tale. They are all clearly having fun (a MUST for children’s theatre—although other companies seem to forget this often enough). While all of the actors bring fun qualities to their roles, playful with a large grab-bag of physical choices and more accents than I could count, I particularly enjoyed the performances of Patrick Shane (as The Dodo and King of Hearts), Anne Richmond (as Tweedle-Dee, The Gryphon and Seven of Hearts), director/creator McCasland (as Tweedle-Dum and The Mock Turtle) and the hilarious Mallory Berlin, whose every exaggerated movement (as The Duchess and The Queen of Hearts) is a crystallization of comedic timing and characterization. Finally, at its core, Emily Floyd makes an effective, likable Alice.
While the costumes are splendid in their simplicity with spurts of evocative color and whimsy, I would have preferred Floyd’s natural hair (whatever color it may be) over the bright pink wig she wore. While her costume helps tie her into the world of Wonderland, I felt a more naturalistic look, to go along with her more naturalistic acting choices, would have made this Alice more relatable, and perhaps would have added to the fish-out-of-water aspect of the girl so far from home. The sound design is also quite stirring, especially Laura Intravia’s glorious "Beautiful Soup."
Staging-wise, McCasland has done a fine job and much of it works well—but even with that tiny stage at SoHo Playhouse, I would have liked to have seen more use of levels and the sides of the stage. His choice of some props being raised and lowered with fishing poles works very well, and more of this type of ingenuity as a throughline would be a welcome addition. While clearly smart and talented, perhaps McCasland could use more assistive eyes when wearing so many hats in the future.
All in all, I commend all of the artists involved on a good job and an enjoyable show—but in the end, the only opinions that really matter for this Alice are those of its intended audience…. Unfortunately, at the matinee I attended, while the spectators were laughing and immersed in the goings-on, there was not a child in sight.
What this Alice needs above all else is a bunch of laughing children in the house. Won’t you do your part and take yours?