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Review: ‘Alice and the Book of Wonderland’ at Annapolis Shakespeare Company

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Annapolis Shakespeare Company’s production of Alice and the Book of Wonderland is an entertaining treat for all ages, with delightful acting, colorful costumes, a creative use of technology, excellent directing, and sly political humor. Adapted from Lewis Carroll’s classic novel Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Sally Boyett and Donald Hicken, and directed by Sally Boyett, it is a wonderful first show to premiere the company’s new, 125-seat theater.

Jackie Madejski, Brian Keith MacDonald, and Laura Rocklyn. Photo by Joshua McKerrow.

Laura Rocklyn plays Alice with a charming sweetness and youthful energy, engaging the absurdity around her with grace. Whether wielding a flamingo for a croquet mallet, attending a mad-cap tea party, or escaping from drowning in a pool of her own tears, she serves as a grounding of sorts for the other actors to play over-the-top and silly, to great comic effect. Even in all the madness, her strong moral core shines through, challenging injustice, and helping her friends.

The other actors play multiple roles, and it’s a joy to watch them change characters so quickly and effortlessly. Brian Keith MacDonald plays the Caterpillar curled up in a desk chair on rollers, blowing smoke and uttering pronouncements in an authoritative tone. He also plays the Knave, swaggering confidently around the stage in arrogant superiority. Stooped over as the Mock Turtle, he’s the master of bad puns, while breaking into tears at a sad song he sings.

Jackie Madejski as Cook is hilarious, with a perpetual scowl on her face and a loud, comic sneeze. As the Eaglet, she is pure movement, nearly floating around the stage in quiet beauty. As Card #7 she is argumentative and antagonistic, ready for a fight.

Laura Rocklyn, Ian Charles, Johnny Weissgerber and Brian Keith MacDonald. Photo by Joshua McKerrow.

Bill Dennison as the White Rabbit is a quivering, nervous wreck, shrieking whenever he encounters Alice. He’s incredibly physical, running all over the stage and involved in some rather complex stunts. He’s much more subdued as the Gryphon, serving as a straight man to MacDonald’s Mock Turtle.

Johnny Weissgerber is a hoot as the Duchess, equally loud whether laughing, crying, or explaining the morals of her long, involved tales. He’s just as funny as the Mad Hatter, hurling tea cups into a bucket or changing places for a fresh cup. He forms a perfect comedy trio with MacDonald as the March Hare and Ian Charles as the sleepy Dormouse. As they each take turns dancing, they twirl the table in glorious silliness. The most challenging role is probably the Cheshire Cat, which Weissgerber tackles perfectly. A giant head, he uses his eyes to help give a mysterious, slightly sinister air.

Olivia Ercolano plays the Red Queen with authority and anger. Fuming at the slightest challenge, she strides the stage commanding attention and barking orders. She radiates fear with just a look. Ian Charles plays the King with timidity, hidden beneath his robe and wig.

Adam Mendelson has done a wonderful job as Lighting Designer, using all sorts of effects to help reflect the mood. One particularly clever bit is having a dramatic red flash whenever anyone says, “Red Queen,” the characters recoiling in terror.

Mollie Singer has done a great job as Scenic Designer, creating a simple set that gives the actors lots of room to play. The stage and backdrop are made to look like pieces of old parchment, with writing on both. At the play’s start, a stool, picnic basket, and child-sized bench are all onstage.

Johnny Weissgerber and Laura Rocklyn. Photo by Joshua McKerrow.

One of the most creative parts of this production is the work of Projections Designer Joshua McKerrow. He incorporates both still images and live action onto the screen in the backdrop. They are used for special effects, such as changing perspective when Alice shrinks and grows. The Cheshire Cat is an entirely on-screen creation, regularly appearing and disappearing, and speaking with the other characters. During the trial scene, two of the conspirators appear onscreen and interact with everyone onstage. At other times, illustrations from the Alice books are shown. It’s incredibly well-done and surprising.

Sandra Spence has done a great job as Costume Designer, creating colorful costumes that pop onstage. Alice begins and ends in a dark blue dress, but spends her time in Wonderland in a light blue, frilly dress. The White Rabbit wears white pants and a jacket, a brown derby on his head, carrying an umbrella and wearing smoked glasses. The Mad Hatter has a bright purple jacket, multicolored bowtie, and an orange top hat. The Mock Turtle has a dark green sweater and a plaid golfer’s cap. The Caterpillar is dressed all in green, from his jacket to his fez, apart from his yellow bowtie. The Red Queen looks severe in a light pink-and white dress with a black corset, and a white bonnet on top of her dark red hair.

Nancy Krebs serves the cast well as Dialect Coach, making sure the class differences sound just right. As Cook and Card #2, Madejski has a thick Cockney accent, while Ercolano’s Red Queen sounds like she belongs in the aristocracy.

Sally Boyett has done an excellent job as both Sound Designer and Director. She heightens the absurd atmosphere by interjecting strange sounds and music. The Cheshire Cat has his own unique music after disappearing. During one zany chase scene involving Alice, the White Rabbit, the Mad Hatter, and a table, the music playing feels like something out of an old vaudeville routine. The actors work well together, moving around each other and the stage easily. Their interactions with the onscreen projections feel perfectly natural, and their timing with the Cheshire Cat, is spot-on. Everything comes together to create a visually stunning, technically innovative night of entertaining theater. Catch it while you can!

Running Time: Approximately one hour and 50 minutes, with a 20-minute intermission.

Alice and the Book of Wonderland plays through August 20, 2017 at Annapolis Shakespeare Company – 1804 West Street, in Annapolis, MD. For tickets, call the box office at 410-415-3513 or purchase them online.

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