Amazing “Alice” at Lookingglass

Photo by Liz Lauren

I’m not sure how it was even possible that I had never before seen Lookingglass Theatre’s stellar and inventive Lookingglass Alice, given that it has been produced there five times before, including the original 2005 production. But I hadn’t, and the more fool I. This show is the epitome of what pure theatrical entertainment can be. Seeing it removes the barriers from reality as easily as Alice and her friend/mentor Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) climb through the on-stage looking glass at the start of the show; after seeing it, I am more certain than ever that nothing is beyond the limits of this company.

Honestly, I don’t even want to describe this show; it should simply be experienced. Besides, just about everyone has at least some familiarity with the story, which Carroll created in 1865 to entertain a small girl named Alice Liddell on a boat outing. Stepping through the looking glass or falling down a rabbit hole with her invites us all into a world that once existed only in Carroll’s imagination, yet has many (often surreal) similarities to elements of the real world. There, Alice meets a huge talking caterpillar, plays chess and croquet with the Red Queen, and listens to the cryptic proclamations of the Cheshire Cat, stepping from one strange moment into another as things get “curiouser and curiouser.”

I saw the show with Molly Hernández as Alice—Lindsey Noel Whiting, in her tenth Alice production, also plays her—and her performance was wonderful in every way. This is not an easy role. In the first place, the character is a little girl (at one point here she says she is seven) but, due to her upbringing, acts, speaks, and seems older than her chronological age. Hernández brilliantly captures both aspects of Alice’s personality. As she explores her wonderland surroundings, she interacts with those she meets as if she were older and yet maintains the whimsy and the capability for awe of a small child discovering this bizarre version of the world anew. At points, her huge, unapologetic smile seems so playfully perfect that it’s almost possible to forget that she is, in fact, an adult. At least until she joins the crazy ground choreography and aerial gymnastics that no true seven-year-old could handle.

Oh, I didn’t mention that there was aerial gymnastics? Oops. Well there is, and it gets difficulter and difficulter while Hernández—and of course “Alice”—have tremendous joy and fun flying through the air and swinging on hoops and ropes. She isn’t the only one here whose gymnastic abilities are challenged, though for the most part Adeoye’s Cheshire Cat and the White Night (usually Samuel Taylor, but understudy Micah Figueroa was hilarious and entertaining) generally keep their own tumbling, rolling, and what-have-you grounded. Adeoye, Figueroa, “White Rabbit” Michel Rodriguez Cintra, and “Red Queen” Kareem Bandealy create glorious mayhem as they embody highly athletic versions of Tea Party attendees, the aforementioned Caterpillar (who here is played by three actors seemingly conjoined), and basically every other character Alice encounters. This is a cast that really gets a workout and one that is impossible not to love.

Having never seen the show before, I can’t comment about how well this version stacks up against any of the previous ones. I can only say that it is what the word “spectacle” was invented for. Director David Catlin has clearly worked overtime to create such chaotic harmony—or should that be “harmonious chaos?—onstage, and he has plenty of help from scenic designer Daniel S. Ostling, costume designer Mara Blumenfeld, lighting designer Christine A. Binder, and sound designer Ray Nardilli. And of course, Lookingglass ensemble member and Actors Gymnasium co-founder Sylvia Hernandez-DiStasi’s creative circus movements (scored by Andre Pluess and Ben Collins-Sussman) are the visual core of the entire show. You’ll certainly be talking about them as you leave and remembering them for a long time afterward.

This is a show for everyone. If we were able to get him vaccinated, I’d take my four-year-old grandson to it while he is visiting from Seattle…and he would love it! With or without an accompanying actual child, this show will unlock the inner child in every audience member and, if the long Covid layoff has caused them to forget, remind them of the true magic of the theatre.

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