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Volume 24, Number 9 — September 2017

Review: Barter Theatre's "Alice in Wonderland'

The March Hare (Sean Campos), Alice (Rebecca Reinhardt), The Dormouse (Ezra Colón), Mad Hatter (Ben Mackel) and The White Rabbit (Tricia Matthews) are together in Barter Theatre's production of
The March Hare (Sean Campos), Alice (Rebecca Reinhardt), The Dormouse (Ezra Colón), Mad Hatter (Ben Mackel) and The White Rabbit (Tricia Matthews) are together in Barter Theatre's production of "Alice in Wonderland."

Production "Will Please Most, Agitate Others"

By ROBERT McKINNEY | SPECIAL TO THE HERALD COURIER | February 16, 2010

*** Published Feb. 11 in the Bristol (Va.) Herald Courier. ***

I have never, for the likes of me, ever understood why "Alice in Wonderland" and the follow-up, "Alice's Adventures through the Looking Glass," has survived for more than a century, much less become a so-called "classic" of children's literature.

The story is disjointed and patently stupid, the characters, including Alice, thoroughly unlikable, and the ending – she dreamed it all – worst than deus ex machina.

After watching the Barter Theatre's current production of "Alice in Wonderland," I actually dug a copy of the original story out of one of the dustiest corners of my library.

I re-read it to see if I might be mistaken about what I remembered as a dreary little story with few, if any, redeeming qualities. I was not.

Okay, now that my personal prejudices against the story are clearly defined, what about Barter's production?

It is, of course, well-acted and innovative. One would expect nothing less of Barter, and the dramatic adaption of the story by Richard Rose is, with one or two minor omissions, spot-on. (The caterpillar is not toking on a hookah, for example.)

For those who are only familiar with popular versions of the story, such as those presented by Disney, it will be confusing and apparently incomplete because Rose has stuck strictly to the original novelette, rather than combine both "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland"and "Through the Looking Glass" as is usually done. Therefore, there is no Twiddle Dum and Twiddle Dee, no chess game, etc.

The set and most of the actors are surreal to the max with the animals being portrayed by hand puppets and bare-bones animation that stretches – beyond the limit? – one's suspension of disbelief.

Of course, one of the purposes of so-called "Non-sense Literature," a brief-lived Victorian movement, was to do just that – in other words to propel the reader (and viewer, in this case) completely outside of any bounds of reality, where nothing is as it seems and all social assumptions are knocked completely topsy-turvy.

I fear that if a person goes to this show with the expectation of seeing a logical and understandable story with a beginning, middle and end, and is unable to rapidly switch expectations early in the first act, he or she will probably come away sorely disappointed.

If, however, one is familiar with the original story (reading it before you go would be very good advice), then the production becomes much more accessible.

There is a bit of music toward the end, and I heard several audience members comment that the show needed more music and earlier. But the fact is that Carroll's story has very little music in it, and it, in fact, comes near the end. To have it otherwise would destroy the integrity of the whole piece.

I suspect that a lot of kids will be going to see this show and that most of them will enjoy it if only for the whacky antics and the Queen of Hearts' constant shouts of "Off with their heads!"

"Alice in Wonderland" is a very strange theatrical experience all around that will please some, confuse some.

"Alice" runs through April 17 at the theater in Abingdon, Va. For dates, times and reservations, call (276) 628-3991 or go to www.bartertheatre.com.

A! ExtraTopics: Review, Theatre