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A Play of Semantics and Costumes: Alice in Wonderland at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival

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Alice in Wonderland (2019): Eddie Lopez (March Hare), Cristofer Jean (Dormouse), Danforth Comins (Mad Hatter). Photo by Jenny Graham.

When Alice in Wonderland comes to mind, often what is imagined are a myriad of colors, interesting creatures, and a whole lot of nonsense. 

Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s Alice in Wonderland begins with nothing more than a tall, blue wing back chair sitting center stage. The only other things of note are thin white planks or hoops placed randomly throughout the stage––seemingly random, that is. 

The production is an adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s original story by Eva Gallienne and Florida Friebus. The pair debuted the show during the Great Depression as a faithful adaptation to Carroll’s story, and has since then become a classic for the stage. 

From the back of the Elizabethan Theatre, Alice (Emily Ota) runs down the aisle and jumps onto the stage. She’s dressed in oversized overalls that look like they were sewn together in patches, a striped shirt underneath, and combat boots. Her dark hair is pulled up in a high ponytail and accented with strips of bright pink. All we know about Alice is she’s angry, as though she’s been running from a problem until she reached the stage and found the blue chair. 

The White Rabbit (Shyla Lefner) pops up briefly, spying curiously on Alice, before running off. At the same time the stage transforms, but not so much in appearance as in imagination. The minimalism in set design allowed the audience to freely imagine the world of Wonderland. With all of the imagery we already know from Tenniel’s illustrations to Tim Burton’s garish portrayal of the story, Production Stage Manager Amy Miranda Bender pulls back on the set, allowing the costumes to transform the stage. The white hoops and planks of wood are used to represent anything from water to horses to the Caterpillar’s hookah smoke. Those manipulating the hoops and planks are characters in themselves, reacting to Alice’s confusion or shock throughout the production. 

The poems and arguments Alice has with the characters reveal a battle of semantics that are the funniest parts of the production. The dialogue makes the story feel more and more like a dream, with each conversation making less sense than the last, but are nonetheless hilarious. One of the first representations of Carroll’s comedic poetry is Mouse’s (Anthony Heald) telling his history to Alice and three birds (Katy Geraghty, Lauren Modica, and Amy Kim Waschke).

Brent Hinkley’s portrayal of Caterpillar garnered loud applause as soon as he delivered his first line. His costume consisted of a huge wig of dreadlocks, a green tie-dye outfit, and sunglasses. His performance left me wanting to see more of Caterpillar, but as soon as we met the Cheshire Cat, I was enthralled with the visual displays of yet another character. 

Lauren Modica voiced the Cheshire Cat as others beside her made the character come alive by constantly keeping the character in motion. The Cheshire Cat’s phosphorescent orange eyes and large grin was satisfying enough, but Modica’s own constant movements and attitude truly made the character. 

Of course, when Alice had finished her conversation with the Cheshire Cat, she meets the March Hare (Eddie Lopez), Dormouse (Cristofer Jean), and Mad Hatter (Danforth Comins), and the audience is once again enthralled with the costume design and hilarious acting. Costume Designer Helen Q. Huang and Wig Designer Cherelle D. Guyton’s attention to each character is evident in the colors, patterns, and textures of everything we see on the characters. 

The Queen of Hearts’s (Amy Kim Waschke) has one of the most impressive costumes of the cast.  Waschke acts as though the costume has always been a part of her, not letting the huge wig or wide dress obstruct her from moving about the stage and screaming “Off with their heads!” with everything in her. 

By the end of intermission, the entirety of Alice in Wonderland is covered, leaving Through the Looking Glass for the second half. It felt like a treat realizing we were going to get so much more after intermission. Finally Humpty Dumpty (David Kelly) and Tweedledee (Kate Mulligan) and Tweedledum (Daniel T. Parker) make an appearance. Alice’s journey becomes more and more convoluted, but it doesn’t become less entertaining. 

By the end, the costumes light up the stage, as well as brilliant light displays designed by Mary Jo Dondlinger. It’s clear how much fun and hard work the cast had with this production from the costume designs to the actors running up and down stairs or interacting with the audience. OSF captures yet another classic story, Alice in Wonderland being no easy task. 

 

Alice in Wonderland
1:30 and 8 pm, through October 12
Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Allen Elizabethan Theatre, 15 S. Pioneer Street, Ashland
$40 – $120

 

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