Chicago Theatre Review
Curiouser and Curiouser
Lookingglass Alice – Lookingglass Theatre
Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, better known by his pen name, Lewis Carroll, is famous for authoring two children’s classics, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. Dodgson was many things: a writer, a mathematician, a deacon in the Anglican Church, a photographer and a logician. This brilliant man adored fantasy and loved the science of reasoning and word play. Because of his passions, Dodgson would’ve loved this brilliant adaptation of his novels that writer and director David Catlin created 10 years ago and has carefully restaged in the intimate Water Tower Pumping Station Theatre.
Known for original, story-centered productions developed by multitalented ensemble members through physical and improvisational rehearsals, Lookingglass Theatre brings their version of Alice back for a return visit. She arrives just in time to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the publication of Lewis Carroll’s famous juvenile novel, as well as the 10th anniversary of this inventive company’s first performance of “Lookingglass Alice.” The production is created in association with the Actors Gymnasium, a northside theatrical school devoted to instructing circus arts and physical performance of all kinds. The company likes to boast that it teaches its participants how to fly–both physically, emotionally and creatively. In “Lookingglass Alice” this is precisely what the actors and the audience experience together.
Most of Catlin’s tiny cast of extraordinary actor/gymnasts do quadruple duty in this show, playing so many different characters that the audience is taken aback when only five actors appear during the curtain call. The exception is Lindsey Noel Whiting (Lauren Hirte during alternate performances) who plays the singular role of Alice with a continual sense of charm, curiosity and wonderment. Lewis Carroll’s story unfolds loosely, opening with Alice playing by the fireplace with her cat. Suddenly she discovers the author of the book staring at her from the other side of the looking glass. Soon the writer joins Alice and eventually the little girl has climbed through the mirror and is tumbling through a topsy-turvy world of whimsy and wonderment.
Alice pursues The White Rabbit across a chessboard landscape and runs into the gigantic Red Queen, played with haughtiness and a hair-trigger temper by Molly Brennan. A master of the unicycle, the incomparable Samuel Taylor plays both Lewis Carroll and The White Knight, leading Alice on a merry chase through a kingdom of opposites and mirror images. Kevin Douglas, Anthony Fleming and Molly Brennan play the confoundingly crazy Mad Hatter, March Hare and the sleepy little Dormouse at a tea party during which dozens of chairs are flung everywhere. The Cheshire Cat, Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, Humpty Dumpty, the White Queen and other characters from Carroll’s book pop up out of nowhere and delight the audience with their wit, humor and unbelievable physical dexterity.
This wondrous production couldn’t be accomplished this successfully without the theatre’s tight partnership with a number of supporting artists, beginning with David Catlin’s superb and electrifying direction. Sylvia Hernandez-Distasi’s eclectic choreography, which gives a whole new meaning to the term, Lee Brasuell’s extraordinary rigging skills that safely launch the actors into space, Christine A. Binder’s and Ray Nardelli’s unusual lighting and sound design and some especially creative costumes by the talented Mara Blumenfeld all lift the entertainment to another level.
The comedy and cleverness of the script and the marvel and majesty in this remounted, newly refined production offers an exciting alternative to Chicago’s offering of holiday productions. With a simple nod to winter, this story could just as easily take place at any time of the year; but bringing this wonderful production back at a time when parents are looking for worthwhile family entertainment is fortuitous. This must-see production, which leaves audiences breathless, should be on every child’s and adult’s wish list.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented November 12-February 15 by Lookingglass Theatre Company, 821 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago.
Tickets are available by calling the box office at 312-337-0665 or by going to www.lookingglasstheatre.org.
Further information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.