By Keely Haddad-Null
Directed by Laurence Bryan
National Pastime Theater
Most of us know the wonderful story of “Alice in Wonderland” and know that it is filled with moral values for our youngsters- National Pastime Theater in association with Clock Productions is presenting a whole new twist on the story and I must emphasize this version is NOT for children ( of any age). Written by Keely Haddad-Null and based on a painting that was “unearthed at National Pastime Theater”, this is a very dark play that takes the madness of the original stories and characters and moves Wonderland to Chicago during the 19th Century. In this story, we also see that Alice may have been the cause of the Great Chicago Fire. What is Alice really all about. In the original she is a person who is searching for her identity and what she has not, she wants to be hers. This may sound like “jibber-jabber” and there is some in this production as well, but truly if one thinks about the story one can see that Alice is not a “good girl” and certainly doesn’t follow the rules, does she?
In this version, Alice (a very solid performance by Claire Kander, who has got to be exhausted after each performance) is evidently the daughter of Carroll ( Therin Miller) and is being asked to go back in time so that Carroll can right the wrongs in her life. There is a fight and Alice does go back. Her sister ( I never knew there was a sister) Grace ( Jennifer La Turner) talks of dreams and plans so the two of them can become proper ladies, but leaves her for a visit with Toval ( Christopher K. McMorris) the man who, through his influence and power, can make their dreams become reality. Or can he?
Despite Grace giving Alice instructions to stay put, Alice leaves the spot ad enters her adventure with the Cheshire Cat ( deftly handled by Joseph Adamczak) and the other zany characters , Madison ( Shawn Goudie is quite wild in this role which in reality is The Mad Hatter) and his cronies Dom ( Arch Harmon) and Harrison ( the zany Phil Canzano). In this story the Queen of Hearts is Mary Heart ( a strong performance by Allison Black) the Mayor’s wife and the white rabbit is a nun ( a comic touch by Naomi Finklestien). The other characters are Francis, the fireman ( Mark Habert) who has a “thing” for Mary Heart and Gretta ( Dawn Perry) Mary Heart’s maid. The play is an adventure with lots of action. National Pastime, in their mission statement states that they push themselves to the limit- they have truly done so in this production.
Directed by Laurence Bryan who also helped in the writing on a marvelous set by David Denman (the set is one of the best I have seen in a storefront production- truly a work of art) the two hours go quickly and the action almost never stops. Be prepared for some smoke as it is used for the fire and for the water but it is controlled well. The lighting by Steven Besic works well in setting the mood and tone of the production. The music which works well with the story, at times was overpowering causing us to miss some of the lines which can hurt following the story, and in these smaller, more intimate theaters, actors don’t feel the need to project due to the closeness- project! You need the audience to hear what you have to say.
The story is one that will cause us all to think about our own lives as it deals with the struggle for self-discover- who are we? Are we born good or evil? Are we destined to follow a certain path or can we reroute our life’s trail by the things we do? For s different slant on a story that has been around for years and a theatrical experience that you will surely remember, try “Alice of The House of Carroll.”
National Pastime Theater located at 4139 N. Broadway in Chicago, Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings at 8 p.m., Sundays at 3 p.m., starting on May 9th they will add Saturday matinees at 3 p.m. as well. Tickets are a bargain-Thursday night “stimulus tickets” are $10 ( you read that right, ten dollars), Matinees are $20 and Friday and Saturdays $25 ( still a bargain for live theater).Running time is 2 hours with intermission.