Alice in Wonderland

by John Stoltenberg

If you were looking for a local troupe to put Alice’s fabled Wonderland on stage, your top choice would have to be Synetic Theater. And no wonder. Synetic’s trademark physical theater enthralls one’s inner child in a way that little Alice Liddel must have felt when she first heard the stories told her by the family friend who would go on to publish them under the pen name Lewis Carroll. The difference is that her child’s imagination was filled by words alone. When an audience attends Synetic’s Alice in Wonderland, all their inner children are treated as if on a field trip to an imagined phantasmagoria of music, movement, and madness most magical.

The entire show is engrossing—it’s easily among the most enjoyable Synetic productions I’ve seen—but as I was watching in wonderment, I was also literally wondering: What happens to Alice’s story when told in the context of the Women’s Voices Theater Festival? Does it change? How? What new meaning comes into play?

Synetic’s Alice in Wonderland is an abundance of delight. Kathy Gordon as Alice spinning dizzily as she tumbles down the rabbit hole. Tori Bertocci as the clock-watching White Rabbit clambering frantically on monkey bars.  Alex Mills as the Cheshire Cat playfully chasing a ball and then its own tail and then savoring a mouse. Augustin Beall and Thomas Beheler as Tweedledee and Tweedledum high-fiving like two drugged-out dudes. Eliza Smith as the Dodo in a tutu  dancing for her life on tiptoe. Vato Tsikurishvili as front quarters of the hookah-toking Caterpillar (while four other dancer-actors writhe its hindquarters). Renata Veberyte Loman in platform shoes and a white latex gown as the Queen grandly cheating on the croquet court. Dallas Tolentino, Justin J. Bell, and Zana Gankhuyag as the Mad Hatter, March Hare, and Dormouse robotically popping at an irrational tea party (not the partisan kind).

The direction by Paata Tsikurishvili, the choreography by Irina Tskikurishvili, the lighting by Colin K. Bills, the costumes by Kendra Rai—it all works together as a gorgeous whole. But the stupendous score is a standout. Resident Composer Konstantine Lortkipanidze has made of music a multilevel river of sound that propels the action like a rapids. (You can hear it here on Soundcloud.)

The script, adapted by Lloyd Rose based on the novel, uses words very sparingly, as befits Synetic. Many lines are familiar, and a few are very funny. (“You can’t let the words have the last word,” says Vato Tsikurishvili as Humpty Dumpty before he takes his terminal tumble.) Some are also perplexing such that they put one into the same head-scratching state of mind as Alice. (The zany tea party hosts insist for instance that time is a he not an it.) Rose’s most notable contribution however is not what little is spoken but the insightful story line she has crafted (deftly synopsized in the program), which includes twists both old and new. In one particularly nice touch, the play begins with Alice playing with her beloved toy dolls, each of which appears as a character in the dream that will become her adventure in Wonderland.

Rose’s rendering of Wonderland leaves no doubt that it is all a dream and the dream is Alice’s. As in many a dreamscape, the dreamer  is buffeted by stuff that would make no sense when one is awake but when one is asleep can be disorienting if not downright dangerous and dark. The character of Alice that emerges in this production, however, is no put-upon patsy, prey to incomprehensible peril. Instead, this Alice argues with the characters she meets in her dream. She challenges their presuppositions about reality and defies their presumptions about her. She doesn’t take their guff. In this sense this classic tale—told first by a grown man to a girl child whom he overadored—has been translated and transformed by a female playwright into a confident young woman’s voice for today. And Alice becomes the hero of her own dream.