Adapted and Directed by David Catlin
From the books by Lewis Carroll
Produced by Lookingglass Theatre Company
Contributions by The Actors Gymnasium
Circus Spectacle Makes Alice Great Fun
Imagine actors crawling over every inch of a theatre, including the walls and ceiling, and you’ll see the fun of Lookingglass Alice. In a whirlwind of props, costumes, rigging, and hidden entrances, Lookingglass’s signature show returns for its tenth anniversary, combining Lewis Carroll’s stories with expert acrobatics.
David Catlin’s adaptation draws from both Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There. Due to the show’s physical demands, the title role alternates between Lauren Hirte and Lindsey Noel Whiting. The audience is arranged runway-style, so depending on where you are, you’ll get a different version of the opening scene, during which the theatre is bisected by a curtain. The minimal story begins with Alice falling asleep and encountering her old friend Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll’s real name, played by Samuel Taylor). After falling through both the lookingglass and a rabbit-hole, Alice sets off on a journey to be crowned queen. As a pawn, she must move across the chessboard landscape, and reach the other side.
Along the way, she encounters a variety of strange people, played by Taylor, Molly Brennan, Kevin Douglas, and Anthony Fleming III. Among them are a dorky white knight who gracelessly dismounts his cycling contraptions, the grandiose red queen, the pedantic and precariously perched Humpty Dumpty, a flirtatious Cheshire cat, and many others. Many of them debate with Alice on logic and social customs, with hilarious results. The cast members are all attuned to each other and play off each other’s energy. The show also frequently breaks the fourth wall, getting stage-hands, scenic technology, and audience members involved. Some scenes are slightly improvised, and part of the cast’s charm is their ability to adapt to inevitable unexpected situations.
The show is generally funny, and always requires strenuous feats by the actors. Probably the most daring is a sequence in which Alice swings and drops between three bungee cords high above the floor. For that reason, the show is sometimes frightening in a way unrelated to its plot, and may not be right for small children. Other parts of the show are more serious, such as a meltdown induced by the Mad Hatter and March Hare. Besides their humor and physical abilities, the actors are all endearing and add memorable traits to each of their characters. Ray Nardelli’s sound design includes evocative music that keeps us immersed in the feel of the story even while we appreciate the artifice.
Since the production has played many times over the past decade, many Chicagoans have already seen it. They will be glad to know it is still fresh. If like me, you had not seen Lookingglass Alice before, it is not to be missed. It is an amazing piece of spectacle, but still carries some delightful character moments. Families with older children will remember it for years, and may make a tradition of it depending on how many more times it gets revived. People I knew who had seen it many times before are still amazed by it. It’s truly fun for everyone.
Reviewed November 22nd, 2014
For more information, see Lookingglass Alice’s page at Theatre in Chicago.
Playing at Water Tower Water Works, 821 North Michigan Avenue at Pearson. For tickets, visit www.lookingglasstheatre.org or call 312-337-0665. Tickets are $45-80, with 20% discounts for groups of 8 or more. Runs through February 15. Shows Wednesdays at 7:30 pm, Thursdays at 7:30 pm except Nov 25, Dec 25, and Jan 1, Fridays at 7:30 pm, Saturdays at 3:00 pm and 7:30 pm, Sundays at 3:00 pm and 7:30 pm on Dec 7, Dec 14, Dec 21, Jan 11, Jan 25, Feb 8, and Feb 15, with matinees on select weekdays. Running time is 90 minutes without an intermission.