When you follow Alice down this rabbit hole, you need to leave the children at home. Unquiet Theater Company is clearly having fun putting on an adult-themed reimagining of the well-known Alice tale. Director Katy Chmura did not just “amp up” the classic version by adding sex, drugs, rock and roll. Those aspects are visible here and they do add some sensationalism, but they also serve a purpose, which is to highlight the social issues around which playwright James Michael Shoberg has centered this play. Alice, played strongly by Lindsay Steinberg, carries the through line of the play, and in scene after scene meets new characters very different from those some readers may remember.
Some of the characters that stand out in the original Lewis Carroll version are remarkably re-envisioned here. The White Rabbit, played terrifically by Devyn Tinker, is a wonderfully smart-mouthed, sexually-charged enigma who intrigues the audience and Alice. Mad Hattie is played with effusive energy by Stella Sklar, whose friends at her tea party may reflect a huge imagination or multiple personalities. Chester, the Cheshire Cat, played by Maggie Prusaczyk, uses movement and manner to reflect a feline desperate for her version of catnip. Jonathan Fair plays the Queen of Hearts whose intro is a showstopper. Alice meets a host of characters, most of whom are seedy and untrustworthy, though some, such as Scott Morgan’s Professor Pillar, are sadly very realistic.
Costumes, by Michelle MacDonald, are cleverly evocative and entertaining. Some would be entirely appropriate for contemporary everyday wear that the audience might see on the street, while some pushed the envelope of style towards cartoon.
Sound design by Matthew Scarborough and Natalie Foley was excellent. Some standout examples of include the roar and whistle of an oncoming train and the music for the Queen of Hearts’ dance number. Throughout the play, the rock music used for the transitions helped support the mood of the piece and cover scene changes.
The scenes shift frequently in the first act, with actors and crew moving the minimal set pieces onstage in low lighting to change the location for every new character introduced. Although the second act is shorter, I found the use of the curtain and blackouts interrupted the continuity more than watching the scene changes. That being said, my favorite set design was after a blackout for the scene which I found most unsettling, when Alice awakens in the room of a stranger who seems to have an obsession with dolls. It is well-acted, well-directed and very creepy, as are many parts of the play. While some of the production is played in fun, the underlying message is important and relevant. I was pleased to note that a portion of ticket proceeds will go to support social issues brought up in this performance.
While I liked the play, I do quibble with the structure. In Carroll’s book, Alice has adventures with a series of characters. In its present form, the play’s first act introduces each new character to Alice in disconnected scenes. I would suggest that these scenes be fused to build the tension as Alice’s situation grows more desperate.
Director Chmura and Playwright Shoburg offer a version of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland which will make you laugh, and gasp, think, and perhaps re-think. The cast and crew have built a show that is worth the visit to Lorton’s Workhouse Arts Center, which is home to Unquiet Theatre Company. I am pleased to have found Unquiet, a new company built to produce edgy, entertaining theater and I am impressed with their willingness and ability to take on the Virginia premier of a wild adaptation of a classic.
Running Time: One hour and 45 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.