Review: Alice In Wonderland (SRT) by Scottish Rite Theater
by Michael Meigs
Macey Mayfield with her china doll good looks and silvery little voice is a lovely match for the imaginary Alice whom Lewis Carroll sent off to Wonderland.
Children's theatre in the style of the Scottish Rite Theatre requires of actors a special willingness and ability. The actors have their audience just two steps away, on mats spread in the wide open space at the center of the theatre.
SRCT scripts pretty much banish the fourth wall, as well, as actors engage the kids in question and answer. Despite the imaginary "bottom glue" applied pre-show at the chirpy urging of a couple of cast members, the 4-to-8-year-old crowd is a pretty unpredictable bunch. The little ones might get up and wander around and the older ones might think it's cute to sass back to the actors.
I enjoyed a preview show of Alice in Wonderland, even though the young audience wasn't really numerous enough to spark the participatory dynamic the actors were promoting. Once those bottoms were in place, Macey came forward unobtrusively and knelt primly at the front of the kid's area, starting as a member of the audience. Mrs Crabby-Pants the teacher (Corley Pillsbury) came on with the officious strut and patronizing sweetness of a rotten elementary school teacher, and suddenly we were all back in grade school. After some admonitory dialogue, she told Alice to come up and tell us the story of the dream that she'd had. And so we were off to Wonderland.
Charles Lutwidge Dodgson -- "Lewis Carroll" -- penned in Alice in Wonderland and Through The Looking Glass a story of divine nonsense, only part of his prodigious production of verse and fable. The Tenniel illustrations gave vivid life to the story, even in the smoothed-over Disney versions.
The problem with nonsense, of course, is that it just doesn't make -- sense. Contrast this beloved story to other fairy tales or fables staged at the SRCT. For example, Aladdin or The Little Mermaid are conventional stories of adventure and overcoming obstacles, typically ending with a victory, a home-coming, or a Happily Ever After. Dear Alice, in contrast, faces enigma after enigma, encountering the most positively arbitrary personages the author could imagine. As grown-ups or even as mid-level readers we love the logic of his illogic and we relish the subtle anarchy of a world where a not-too-bright Red Queen disposes of problems with a peremptory "Off with his head!"
Michael McKelvey's jaunty version features our favorite scenes -- the bustling White Rabbit (José Villareal), Tweedledum (Chris Skillern) and Tweedledee (Villareal), the Cheshire Cat in walk-around bunraku puppet style animated by Devyn Ray, the glorious tea party featuring the Mad Hatter (Skillern), the March Hare (Pillsbury) and the Dormouse (a hand puppet operated by Ray), and Pillsbury as the Red Queen, pronouncing pouty sentence on the Knave of Hearts (Ray).
The kids followed this with awe if not entirely with comprehension, throughout the 40-minute show. Once Alice had wound it all up, they were pleased to approach the actors, up close this time, and to get autographs on the broadsheet program that doubles as a coloring sheet.
Alice in Wonderland is an agreeable introduction for children to the magic world of theatre. The Scottish Rite Theatre runs the show on weekends through the end of February, typically at 10 o'clock on Saturdays and at 2 p.m. on Sundays, with some mid-week shows booked for schools.
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207 West 18th Street
Austin, TX, 78701