Monday, November 17, 2014

Alice in Wonderland—Tears of Joy Theatre—SE Portland

Toybox of Wonders

The production of the classic tale is performing at the Imago space at 17 SE Burnside Ave. through November 23rd.  It is directed and adapted for the stage by Tim Giugni from the book by Lewis Carroll.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-248-0557.  You might also want to catch their Improv Comedy Match between Puppets vs. People on the 21st & 22nd of November at 8 pm at Imago.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that this tale, as well as other Fairy Tales, such as Peter Pan, Pinocchio and The Wizard of Oz, et. al., are geared as much for adults as for children.  As did one of the early storyteller’s, a Greek slave named, Aesop, where all his stories had morals.  These later tales also carry this badge.  Oz…, with its conclusion that there is no place like home, but sometimes you have to go over the rainbow to appreciate that adage.  Or the little puppet that became a real boy only after he realized the importance of telling the truth.  And, …Pan, where childhood is held dear and adulthood peopled by stuffy prigs or pirates.  And, Alice…, a satire on the political and social structure of England at the time and the importance of saying exactly what you mean, unlike some of the gentry and nobility of those times (and, perhaps in modern times, as well, in all countries).

This pared-down version of the story does carry much of the self-same messages, where miscommunication and nonsensical speech is rampant among the inhabitants of Wonderland.  As this adaptation goes, Alice is in her family’s attic, where some mischievous creatures of the imagination are lurking, just waiting for a curious victim, on which to wreck havoc on their senses.  Call it a dream, an alternate reality, or an overactive imagination, but Alice is whisked through a looking-glass (mirror) in which she finds herself desperately trying to acquaint herself and adapt to this new landscape.

While eating and drink some mind-altering foods, she becomes either too small, about the size of a cold bug, or too large, in which she literally explodes from her house.  Finally her body adjusts to her new environment in which she acquaints herself with its citizens.  There is the caterpillar, who speaks or sings in rhymes and riddles.  Then there is Tweedle-Dum and Tweedle-Dee, twins who are always at war with each other.  And the snooty, Mad Hatter, March Hare and Dormouse, who are having a constant tea party, in which word games are played.  Also add an appearance by the Cheshire Cat, who can disappear and appear at will; the raucous Lady and her pig (literally) of a baby; and finally, the Queen of Hearts, whose favorite pastime seems to be the beheading of people.  Make of these symbols as you will.

But what makes this production enjoyable, for both young and old alike, is the way it is presented.  Although we have a life-sized Alice, we also have masks, finger puppets, costumed actors, balloons, clowns, songs, to participate in the relating of the story.  As well as the fact that the play is performed by only four actors, one of which is Alice all the time, leaving the menagerie of other creations to only three of the company and they are terrific.  These elements alone are worth the price of admission.  An amazing feat!

I wish I could tell you the name of the performers involved, as they deserved the recognition, but they weren’t listed.  All that was listed was the group that supplied them, .  The puppets and masks were designed by Jane Clugston and Wooden O Studio and others.  The set (Steve Coker & Lance Woolen), Lighting (Craig M. Ogg), Costumes (Cynthia Combs & Carol Cooley), and Original Music (Richard Moore) also added greatly to the fun, color and bombardments to the senses of their special skills and artistry.  And Giugni, the director and writer, must be commended for pulling all these pieces together into a very entertaining and comprehensible show.

Since the sad passing of one of the co-founders of TOJ, Janet Bradley, (a fine artist herself, whom I knew) this company may have passed into history.  But Nancy Aldrich, the current Artistic Director, has assumed this giant mantle and has forged the dream of imagination and puppetry forward.  Imagination would be a terrible thing to waste but in their capable hands, it is alive and well!

I recommend this show for children and the young at heart.  If you do see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

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