Arctic Goes Down the Rabbit Hole

For their last show at the 117 Washington St location in West Warwick, The Arctic Playhouse is taking audiences down the rabbit hole for the classic Lewis Carroll tale, Alice in Wonderland. Adapted by Brainerd Duffield, this version takes 14 episodes from “Alice in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking Glass” and knits them into a three-act play that follows Alice’s journey through this strange world filled with many eccentric characters. Though it is a children’s story, it also has darker elements that will appeal to adults.

In creating a Wonderland, the technical elements are key, and though The Arctic Playhouse has a small space to work with, they absolutely make the most of it. Joe Welch’s set design is cleverly versatile, with rotating panels, a tree that doubles as a table and a chessboard design down the aisles. Furthering the sense of whimsy is Kyle Renee’s lighting design, most notably the flashing colored lights that denote key moments, such as Alice falling down the rabbit hole. The wacky characters come to life with the help of John Cagno’s and Fantasy Factory Costume’s designs, from the fabulous Queen of Hearts and Duchess to the Tim Burton-influenced Mad Hatter. The sound of Wonderland consists of classical music expertly curated by director Rachel Hanauer.

Descriptions of this particular play claim that it requires a cast of 20 people. Arctic’s  production has about half that number and manages through double-plus casting: one performer can play up to four characters. It is a testament to the talent of the cast how completely each actor transforms between each of their respective characters, and not just through their wild costume and makeup changes.

The cast is headed by Jenna Petrarca as Alice. As the titular character, she is on stage virtually the entire time, which is quite a feat, especially considering she is the youngest of the company (Petrarca starts high school in the fall). Her Alice transforms from being prone to hysterics and socially inept in a world where all the rules are different to being a strong leader, unafraid to stand up for herself.

Alice’s inadvertent guide through Wonderland, the perpetually late White Rabbit, is played by Joham A. Rosario, who delightfully captures the Hatter’s  nervous energy, while also confidently dealing out advice to Alice on how to handle the Queen of Hearts. Katherine Kimmel’s presence as the temper-prone tyrant is larger than life, managing to be both terrifying and hilarious, ordering beheadings left and right.

Among the best moments are the Mad Hatter’s and March Hare’s tea party that Alice crashes, the song and dance of the Turtle and the Gryphon, the Trial, and Tweedledee’s and Tweedledum’s recitation of “The Walrus and the Carpenter.” The iconic Mad Hatter and March Hare are played brilliantly by Jonathan Sproule and Stefan Di Pippo, respectively, as they matter-of-factly spew nonsense. Also in attendance at the tea party is the narcoleptic dormouse (Shannon McMillan) who occasionally awakes from her slumber to drowsily recite a rhyme or tell an absurd story. The Lobster Quadrille is a fun moment of silly song and dance performed by Elizabeth Nelson as the Turtle and Selina Amargo as the Gryphon. The Trial features most of the cast, including the Mad Hatter who takes his time on the witness stand to sip his tea, which captivates everyone in attendance until they’ve all crowded around him, eagerly watching his every move. The Turtle and the Gryphon form a peanut gallery in front of the audience, often throwing popcorn at the judge or the White Rabbit in response to the proceedings. Finally, the famous Tweedledee and Tweedledum, played by Rose Peralta and McMillan, tell the morbid story of “The Walrus and the Carpenter,” punctuating every line with “Sit down!” as they catch Alice trying to get away as she attempts to escape in order to continue on her journey.

Other notable characters include the ever moral-seeking Duchess (Jessica Gates), the nutty and disheveled White Queen (Nelson) and the overconfident Humpty Dumpty (Emerson McGrath).

This production of Alice in Wonderland is every bit as resourceful and clever as such a creative story ought to be. Their small cast and space in no way take away from the story, and the result is no less effective than if they had all the resources in the world. This is perhaps what makes the work of small theaters like The Arctic Playhouse such a feat: their ability to make more out of less.

Alice in Wonderland runs at The Arctic Playhouse, 117 Washington Street
West Warwick. Remaining show dates are June 21, 22, 23, 28, 29, 30 @ 8pm  & June 24 at 2 pm. For tickets, visit thearcticplayhouse.com.

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