For reasons not clear to me, rabbit holes are opening up all over the Baltimore area, inviting audiences to take the plunge with that restless, dogged young girl named Alice.
Fells Point Corner Theatre got this theatrical tea party started in June when it presented an offbeat version of Lewis Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland" devised in 1970 by the Manhattan Project and Andre Gregory.
This month, "Alice and the Book of Wonderland," Annapolis Shakespeare Company's buoyant take on the classic Carroll tale, is getting its world premiere.
Opening in late November at Baltimore Center Stage will be "Lookingglass Alice," an athletic adaptation by David Catlin originally done by Chicago's Lookingglass Theatre a decade ago.
And, next spring, Chesapeake Shakespeare Company will revive a 1932 treatment of "Alice in Wonderland" devised by actresses Eva Le Gallienne and Florida Friebus.
Even more Alice-y doings could very well fill the calendar in the months ahead. Curiouser things have happened.
Meanwhile, folks eager to jump into a world filled with the likes of a pocket watch-watching White Rabbit, a hookah-puffing Caterpillar and a compulsively grinning Cheshire Cat can check out Annapolis Shakespeare's current venture.
"Alice and the Book of Wonderland," co-written by the company's founding artistic director, Sally Boyett, and director/educator Donald Hicken, crams in a lot of the familiar characters and incidents from the original material, making some additions and tweaks along the way. The result is a two-act play that takes Alice on a pretty quick journey from daydreaming along a riverbank to strange underground adventures and back again.
To tell the truth, I would have welcomed an even faster trip, but that's just me. Call me maladjusted, but I had no appetite for Carroll's colorful creations as a child, and adulthood didn't make me any hungrier. I appreciate the ingenuity of imagery and language, but it's still awfully hard for me to get into a Wonderland frame of mind.
That confession out of the way, I hasten to add that this production, directed by Boyett, makes it pretty easy for the Alice-averse to go along and will likely please the Alice-ardent even more. This is thanks especially to the multimedia stagecraft, which shows off Annapolis Shakespeare's new 125-seat theater to fine advantage.
Scenic designer Mollie Singer and projections designer Joshua McKerrow, a Baltimore Sun Media Group photographer, have created a highly animated world full of fun and little surprises; the opening riparian scene, in particular, creates subtle, delectable atmosphere. Sandra Spence's prismatic costumes and Adam Mendelson's sensitive lighting add other enticing layers throughout.
Despite the cozy dimensions of the performance space, the actors holler most of their lines. Their gestures are played very broadly, too, perhaps in an effort to grab the attention of younger audience members (those at the performance I attended seemed to stay mostly engaged).
Adults in the house get special attention, too, treated to chunks of dialogue peppered with mildly amusing contemporary references that kids aren't likely to catch. It starts when Alice gets to the end of the rabbit hole and confronts a couple of talking doors who spout off about a travel ban and building a wall.
Such terms as "collusion" and "recusal" also crop up during the show. But that's about as political as the adaptation gets. Not a hint of uniquely coiffed, vaguely orange-ish hair in sight. And, no, the blustery queen who tangles with Alice doesn't say "You're fired" instead of "Off with her head."
Boyett and Hicken don't go heavy with the from-the-headlines allusions. They keep the focus on what Carroll conjured up so fancifully so long ago.
The production is anchored by Laura Rocklyn as Alice. She can be a little one-note in delivery, but sustains a persuasive youthful quality as she conveys the girl's mix of naivete and boldness.
Everyone else in the well-knit cast takes on multiple roles. Brian Keith MacDonald is a standout in each of his assignments, especially as the Mock Turtle. He delivers that creature's pathetic soup song with spot-on styling, right down to the coloratura sobs.
Johnny Weissgerber likewise jumps nimbly into various characters. He makes a truly manic Mad Hatter, as well as a sly, wry Cheshire Cat (video comes nicely into play here, creating a sort of feline cousin to the Wizard of Oz).
Weissgerber also has a good time in the role of the compulsively moralizing Duchess, spouting one of the longest, drollest lines in Carroll's text — the one that begins "Never imagine yourself not to be otherwise than what it might appear to others ..." — in disarming fashion.
Among other things, Olivia Ercolano summons the imperious nature of the Red Queen. Bill Dennison scurries all over the place as the White Rabbit, but does he have to let out so many screams as he goes?
Speaking of repetition in this staging, do we really need a blast of audio-visual effects at each and every mention of the Red Queen? (There are oodles of them.) And while the sequence of dancing and playing croquet with flamingos may be amusing the first time, each reprise gets less so and cuts into the momentum of the play.
Still, the production's rewards — including an extra-kinetic tea party scene — keep the wonder bubbling in this visit to a quizzical land of alternative reality.
If you go
"Alice and the Book of Wonderland" runs through Aug. 20 at Annapolis Shakespeare Company, 1804 West St., Suite 200, Annapolis. Tickets are $25 to $45. Call 410-415-3513, or go to annapolisshakespeare.org.