By Joe Siegel
Lewis Carroll’s classic tale of Alice in Wonderland has been given a radical and off-putting makeover in Epic Theatre Company’s latest production, running through June 8 and directed by Terry Shea.
This production was created by the Manhattan Project under the direction of Andre Gregory.
The setting of the production is a mental institution, where Alice (Amy Lee Connell) is surrounded by the familiar characters, Mad Hatter (Shawn Fennell), The Mouse (Meghan Rose Donnelly), the Queen of Hearts (Meryn Flynn), Humpty Dumpty (Samantha Gaus) and the Cheshire Cat (Ronald Lewis).
There are no sets in this show, and all of the characters wear hospital scrubs from beginning to end. This hinders, rather than elevates, the storytelling.
There are a number of surreal episodes, including a tea party gone awry and a potion that causes Alice to shrink. Throughout the play, Alice is alternately tempted and tortured by a series of bizarre characters. Alice is presented with a series of puzzles and riddles with no simple solutions. This is a very disturbing and mean-spirited story.
To call this version of Alice in Wonderland misguided would be charitable. It is 90 minutes of sound and fury, signifying nothing.
The actors all play multiple characters, yet it’s hard to tell who is who when there are no costume changes.
There is talent on display here. Connell is an appealing performer and has the acting chops necessary to convey conflicting emotions. Alice is taken on an emotional rollercoaster along with the audience.
Fennell, who has a lanky physique, has an intensity as the Mad Hatter that is unsettling and riveting. He can be alternately fearful and strangely seductive.
Flynn has a terrific time portraying the imperiousness of the Queen of Hearts. Her line deliveries are appropriate to the character and bring a spark to the show.
The show is physically demanding of all the actors and they do give it their all. The cast demonstrated a lot of spirit as they carried out the physicality of their roles.
But in the end, it’s all elusive. What is the ultimate message? I felt like this production of Alice in Wonderland was more an exercise, and not a faithful recreation of the story. It doesn’t really go anywhere.
Would Lewis Carroll be pleased to see this version? I can only imagine he would be baffled, a little annoyed, and would leave the theater shrugging his shoulders.
This Alice gets lost in the wilderness.
Alice in Wonderland runs through June 8 at the Epic Theatre Company, Hope Artiste Village, 999 Main St., Pawtucket, RI.