Alice's Adventures in Wonderland | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland 

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ALICE'S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND, City Lit Theater Company. How to translate Alice's classic odyssey to the stage? Start with Brian Bembridge's optical-illusion set, which enables characters to grow taller or shorter. Then assemble an army of Cynthia von Orthal's imaginative puppets (marionettes, bunraku, stick, hand, balloon, and novelty shop) and double-profile masks, which allow an actor to play two roles simultaneously. Add Angelo Petronio's protean costumes, John Imburgia's polychrome lighting, and an intricate musical score by Andre Pluess and Ben Sussman.

But the ingenious special effects are not the sole reason to cheer City Lit's comeback show after last year's administrative upheaval. Kelly Nespor's brisk 90-minute adaptation gives us a vivid tour of Wonderland: the plunge down the rabbit hole, the Cheshire cat, the caterpillar, the tea party, the turtle, the lobster quadrille (haven't you always wondered what that looked like?), and the flamingo croquet mallets. All the shape-shifting spectacle and witty wordplay are here. Ann Noble Massey as the inquisitive Alice anchors the other six cast members, all of them agile, ambidextrous, and multivoiced. Director Cecilie D. Keenan keeps everything moving crisply and coherently. City Lit's production not only recaptures the delicate magic and playfulness of Lewis Carroll's Victorian fantasy but reaffirms the integrity and craftsmanship that have made this company a leader in literary adaptations.

--Mary Shen Barnidge

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