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Volume 26, Number 2 — February 2019

Review of Barter Theatre's 'Alice in Wonderland'

Tommy Bryant
Tommy Bryant

By TOMMY BRYANT | March 09, 2010

"All good stories have a moral." Or do they?

Although it is considered a classic by many, I never read Alice in Wonderland, nor have I ever seen a film version of the story. It was one of those things that simply passed me by. Besides, I was more of a Dr. Seuss guy. But I do know that many, many children love the story and the characters, and that's why Barter Theatre's production will be successful.

For adults, like me, who are not familiar with the story at all, the play might not hold your interest for very long. Literary critics have long considered Alice in Wonderland a masterpiece of nonsense literature, which basically means that there's no clear narrative or formal plot to the story. The only story here is a young girl's boredom and her fantastical imagination. A little girl named Alice falls asleep listening to her sister's rather hum-drum story, and she lets her dreaming mind wander into a land filled with nonsensical characters and situations. She is, basically, killing time, amusing herself. Still, the nonsensical nature gets to be a bit much, with none of the elements one would normally find in any good story, be it a film, book, or play.

For instance, when looking at a story, one of the first things you learn is the identify of the main character and his/her goals. For the sake of conflict and all good stories must have conflict there must be obstacles to the protagonist's goals. Without an ultimate goal, or something that's at stake, it's very difficult to become invested in the outcome. And it's extremely difficult to become invested with this piece, even though all the characters are likeable enough.

Because Barter's productions are thoroughly professional, the set design is marvelous, the costumes are splendid, and the acting is wonderful. It was also invigorating watching young kids go so absolutely crazy over live theatre. Adults with no children might want to opt for other options, because as entertaining as some moments are, the play left me flat.

At the very beginning, Alice, of course, falls down the rabbit hole. Then, she tries to open the door to the garden with a key. She drinks one potion to make herself smaller, and eats a cake to make herself larger, and never opens the door. It's a plot point that doesn't advance the plot, which is usually a no-no. Ever wonder why you never see Luke Skywalker go to the bathroom? Because it won't advance the story.

Alice then cries so long and so hard she can swim in her own tears. Other animals swim in her tears, and they all swim to shore. Once they are dry, and that's a whole "nother story, they have a race with everyone as the winner. Soon after, Alice goes inside the white rabbit's house, drinks another potion, and grows so large she can only fit one arm through the door.

Even though I'm not a Jimmy Hendrix fan, I can imagine that he had dreams (or nightmares) similar to Alice's romp through Wonderland. Excuse me while I kiss the sky...and try to eat a cake so I can grow large enough to grab a key.

And again, I thought the technical elements of the production were outstanding, but since I never read the book, and have no fond childhood recollections of the story, it really left me wanting more.

Parents, your children will promise to eat all their vegetables for a week if you spring for this play. The packed house of kids went crazy over Alice. Adults sans young "uns, let me offer you this: The Diary of Anne Frank is also playing right now. That's the moral of this story.

About the Writer:Thomas Bryant teaches at Virginia Highlands Community College in Abingdon. He has a BA in English from King College and a master's degree in Screenwriting & Film Studies from Hollins University. His playThesishad a staged reading at the Burning Coal Theatre in Raleigh, N.C., and hisLevel to the Groundwas selected for the Henri Edmonds' New Works Festival.

A! ExtraTopics: Theatre