Theater Review: Beguiling ‘Lookingglass Alice’ Tumbles Back Down the Rabbit Hole

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CHICAGO – “It really doesn’t matter which direction you go,” counsels one of Wonderland’s mischievous denizens at the onset of Alice’s most transmogrifying of journeys. For David Catlin, the cunningly innovative adaptor and director of Lookingglass Theatre’s take on Lewis Carroll’s treasured canon, it matters not whether the real Alice Liddell traveled upward, downward, backward or sideways on the famed rowing boat trip that would later bear her whimsical stories. At Lookingglass, adventure is the only direction worth taking. Comedy/Tragedy Rating: 4.5/5.0
Play Rating: 4.5/5.0

Forgoing the more recent and bellicose film interpretations, Lookingglass has once again mounted its decidedly percipient excursion down Carroll’s rabbit hole. What “Alice” wants in vicious swordplay and grisly Jabberwocks it abounds in fancy, employing feats of aerial choreography to conjure its magic. It may be her fourth trip to the Red Queen’s court, but this “Alice” is back in a shrewder way, packing more jaw-dropping marvel than ever.

The cast of “Lookingglass Alice”” target=
The cast of “Lookingglass Alice”
Photo credit: Lookingglass Theatre Company

Adorned with accoutrements that are at once chimerical and at home in a child’s sandbox, the scenic environment of “Alice” provides an adaptable playground for Carroll’s tale to unfold. Dan Ostling’s set design ostensibly appears barren, defaulting to the technical stage direction of the author himself (a fictionalized Carroll makes several interjections throughout Alice’s prepubescent odyssey).

And like his muse creator, Catlin is no complacently-minded ringleader. The cavernous space inside Lookingglass’s cubby of the Water Tower becomes instantly transformative in its aesthetic. Helium-padded balls fly from the ceiling; folding chairs erupt from hidden doors; Alice ascends a tangled rope, unsure of the if and where of her destination.

What may appear to be customary cirque theatre fare works in dual capacity here. Although the production may still benefit from a more textually based conceit, the images and stunts materialized are surely no small spectacles.

Lauren Hirte and Molly Brennan” target=
Lauren Hirte and Molly Brennan
Photo credit: Lookingglass Theatre Company

But they are also exhibitions craftily designed to jolt the adult’s lost imagination, and titillate the curiosity of the child who, like Alice, knows that there is always much to be learned in the land of make-believe.

Ensemble members Lauren Hirte (Alice), Kevin Douglas, and Anthony Fleming III return to their respective roles on the Chessboard. Douglas is a quietly meditative Humpty Dumpty, ushering the precocious Alice through her first bout of irrevocable loss. Fleming is a comedic relish as the devilish Cheshire Cat, serving as both trickster and confidant to the precocious journeyer.

Samuel Taylor and Lauren Hirte” target=
Samuel Taylor and Lauren Hirte
Photo credit: Lookingglass Theatre Company

However, it is newcomer Molly Brennan as the Red Queen who serves up a deliciously maniacal turn, with flamingo putters in tow. Brennan, recently seen as Harpo Marx in the Goodman’s “Animal Crackers”, enchants in her stage versatility.

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Brennan, like her current playground, shows little sign of stopping. It may be a repeat discourse in shoes, ships, and ceiling wax, but “Lookingglass Alice” once again serves to remind us that the will to play begets the greatest of wonders.

“Lookingglass Akuce” runs through August 1, 2010 at Water Tower Water Works, 821 N. Michigan Avenue in Chicago.. To purchase tickets or for more information please visit here. For half-price Chicago theater tickets, visit our partner Goldstar. staff writer Alissa Norby

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© 2010 Alissa Norby,

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