Virtual Theater: ALICE IN WONDERLAND (A Noise Within)

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by Marc Wheeler on May 20, 2021

in Theater-Los Angeles,Virtual


[Editor’s Note: Just after we published Marc Wheeler’s glowing review of A Noise Within’s production of Alice in Wonderland, the theater had to go dark due to COVID. Fortunately, the amazing cast and crew reunited recently to professionally film the production specifically for high-definition streaming, which begins May 27, 2021. We are republishing the review here. More info follows].


Childhood whimsy is seen through the looking-glass of adult sophistication at A Noise Within. Based on Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There (1871), this 1932 stage adaptation — co-written by Eva Le Gallienne and Florida Friebus — faithfully honors its source materials, blending the two books seamlessly. With its classy aesthetic and an ensemble delivering more hit performances than misses, this Wonderland will have you grinning as wide as a Cheshire Cat.

It’s Victorian England, and the titular Alice in Wonderland is an imaginative child who discovers a magical land upon climbing through a large household mirror. Here she encounters a whole host of peculiar, anthropomorphized beings — an anxious White Rabbit, a hookah-smoking Caterpillar, Humpty Dumpty of nursery rhyme lore, and more — who perplex her with puns and riddles. The story is slight; a string of isolated, comical vignettes (some more engaging than others) make up the bulk of the narrative. With a running time of 1 hour and 40 minutes, this condensed, two-act production beautifully captures the heart of Carroll’s fanciful tale without overstaying its welcome.

While this is certainly light fare for the classical repertory company, its elegant design elevates the production from mere “kids show” to a work adults can equally enjoy. Frederica Nascimento’s set, lit dramatically by Ken Booth, is simple and bold; its rich red hues allow an ever-revolving cast — colorfully costumed by Angela Balogh Calin — to pop. The characters’ chimerical looks, inspired by John Tenniel’s original book illustrations, play upon exaggerated features with delightful theatricality. Because the costumes are more notional than literal, it helps to have a familiarity with Wonderland’s story (and iconic imagery) to fully recognize each character. Josh Grondin’s original music and sound design imbue the work with dreamlike grandeur.

As the adventurous Alice, adult actress Erika Soto defies her age and embodies the precocious seven-and-a-half-year-old with a depth enriched by her grown-up years. Meanwhile, an ensemble of seven morph between the tale’s numerous players existing in and out of Wonderland. (While a few performances drag, most keep the momentum moving.) Stealing the show are the distinctly eccentric Rafael Goldstein and Kasey Mahaffy, whose respective turns as the Mad Hatter and March Hare — and later, Tweedledum and Tweedledee — score the show’s biggest “chortles.” Not only are their comic abilities commendable, their timing is impeccable.

Beneath its posh exterior, the heart of this production is the wit and wonder Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (under the pseudonym, Lewis Carroll) gifted us over a century ago. In Wonderland, his love of logic and games is evidenced by the playful way he engages with them. Through his jabberwocky edicts and nonsensical approach to reality, the dizzying confusion we all experience as we attempt to make sense of our topsy-turvy world is mirrored. By extension, director Stephanie Shroyer uses her own magic (and amusing casting choices) to bring Carroll’s quizzical illusions and colorful identities to life. If you’re “curiouser and curiouser!” this family-friendly rabbit hole is an adventure well worth taking.

photos by Craig Schwartz

Alice in Wonderland
A Noise Within
streaming May 27 thru June 20, 2021
Thurs and Fri at 7PT; Sat at 6 and 8PT; Sun at 2PT
for tickets, visit A Noise Within

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