‘Alice in Wonderland’ at Encore Stage & Studio

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Encore Stage & Studio presents Tim Kelly’s theatrical adaptation of Alice in Wonderland, a beloved classic by Lewis Carroll. Artistic Director Susan Alison Keady and Director Chuck Leonard lead a large group of aspiring young actors (over thirty!) in this production. With so much young energy to guide, this production must have proved to be a gargantuan feat, and as with every Encore Stage show I review, I left impressed.

The cast of 'Alice in Wonderland.' Photo by  Larry McClemons.
Brandi Moore (Alice)  and cast members of ‘Alice in Wonderland.’ Photo by Larry McClemons.

Technical Director and Scenic Designer Kristen Jepperson uses painted cut-outs of bright, wacky flowers to transform the stage into Wonderland after Alice (a promising performance by Brandi Moore) falls down a rabbit hole. This initial scene takes place behind a shadow screen, which was a very clever and clear way to differentiate the “real” world from Wonderland. Large stuffed toadstools and a literal house of cards helped complete the setting, enhanced with lighting designed by master electrician Gary Hauptman.

Lighting and sound elements work well together. Composer and Sound Designer Matthew Heap works a memorable scene into a frenzy, building sound alongside flickering strobe lighting. Costume Designer Debra Leonard goes the homemade route for this show, using a wide mix of fabrics and patterns to create characters from rabbits and birds to live playing cards and chess pieces.

When Alice (Brandi Moore) falls down a rabbit hole, she discovers a world full of magic, adventure, and wondrous creatures. From a harried White Rabbit (Maggie Keane) to Humpty Dumpty himself (Hannah Knittig), Alice tries to reason with her newfound peers for advice and guidance, only to discover that “reason” has no place in Wonderland. After discovering that the land itself is one giant chessboard, Alice finds herself in rousing arguments with her fellow players as she tries to play her way across the board. She is confused and startled by their antics, including an endless tea party hosted by the Mad Hatter (Abi Burkholder) and endless poetry recitation by a lazy Caterpillar (Camille Pivetta). As the show goes on, Alice muses, “things are getting curiouser and curiouser.” It seems that Alice will have to set her logic aside and let her imagination steer her onward– will she reach her destination?

This production highlights lots of burgeoning talent. Brandi Moore shines as eager, optimistic Alice, and I enjoyed the performances by Laura Wade and Georgia Gibbon as the Red Queen and the White Queen, respectively. Max Tankersley does a fine job manning a large puppet as the Chesire Cat, and Shannon Rogers gets some good laughs as the Dutchess. While these actors are just starting out and are developing their craft, I do see some real promise onstage in this production. I’ll say also that the kids in the audience seemed to have a great time– there was plenty of laughter all around!

Alice (Brandi Moore) and (The White Rabbit). Photo by Larry McClemons.
Alice (Brandi Moore) and The Mad Hatter (Abi Burkholder).  Photo by Larry McClemons.

Alice in Wonderland is a bit of a tricky beast, if you ask me. The plot is a fairly polarizing one; either it is lauded as an imaginative work of genius, or it is written off as complete gibberish. I’ll admit, I used to count myself amongst the latter opinion– that is, until I saw it performed by children, for children. With the solid guidance of an experienced crew, these kids are able to develop their craft and deliver well-earned performances to their audience. This is a pretty great accomplishment, and they should be proud of themselves! I now also appreciate the story in a new light; as a kickstarter of creativity and imagination, it is perfect for a young audience.

For an evening of fun for the whole family this weekend, I recommend Encore Stage & Studio’s production of Alice in Wonderland.

Running Time: 80 minutes, including one 15-minute intermission.

Encore Alice banner

Alice in Wonderland plays through June 14, 2015 at Encore Stage & Studio performing at Thomas Jefferson Community Theatre – 125 South Old Glebe Road, in Arlington, VA. For tickets, call (703) 548-1154, or purchase them online.

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