By Jessica Webb
Smoky Mountain Times
Picture this, Alice in Wonderland but instead of falling asleep in a meadow in the English countryside, she falls asleep at her creekside sandbox in Appalachia, near an old junkyard, and when she awakens it’s transformed into a fairytale place with details like giant letter blocks and multi-colored garland from childhood.
There will be tea, but this party is far from England.
This adaptation by the Guinn Twins Jake and Darby, of Havoc Movement Company, Atlanta, is appropriately and entertainingly adapted for today’s audience while retaining the classic characters and literary nonsense of Lewis Carroll’s 1865 “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.”
“Alice in Wonderland” opened April 1 and will be staged through April 30 at the Mountainside Theatre in Cherokee.
The show, directed by Jason Paul Tate, is an all-ages comedy packed full of stage combat, stunts, acrobatics, aerial arts and – of what could be a particular delight for young adults – fire dancing. Furthering the local connection, Havoc Movement Company and the Cherokee Historical Association had Jonah Lossiah, with the Cherokee One Feather, and Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians author Annette Saunooke Clapsaddle as editors for the script.
We follow Alice down the rabbit hole, soon after the sharply dressed hare takes her attention (performed by Samantha Lancaster). We use our imaginations as she shrinks after the “drink me” bootleggers bottle and grows enormous after the ‘eat this’ red cooler.
Then, soon after, she’s lifted into the air as the sound of the stage filling with tears washes over us. She seems to be enjoying this adventure very much, with actor Bailey Frankenberg bringing her emotions to life. Frankenberg is an enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation with Choctaw descent. This is her second time on stage at Mountainside Theatre, having performed as Lucy in “Dracula: The Failings of Men” last October.
We soon meet the cards – who do a fantastic job of 2-D movement – then wash up on the beach where we meet the birds whose costumes include wings constructed of reused, everyday items like rakes and latex gloves.
Three of the actors in the small cast play multiple roles, with surprising originality for each one, and provide much of the humor. Actors are Barry Westmoreland, Jon Meyer and Lauren Longyear.
Perhaps the most stunning costume is in fact a puppet – the wise caterpillar who perches above a brightly colored mushroom made of old tires.
This adaptation includes many of the quotes from the original book we know and love, while weaving in its own details.
“‘Who are you?’ said the Caterpillar ... in this case inhaling on a corncob pipe. Alice replied, rather shyly, “I–I hardly know, sir, just at present – at least I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.”
Alice gets a glimpse of her proud self when she delivers a beautiful version of “Pretty Polly,” an old English turned Appalachian murder ballad. Throughout the story, the music and sound enrich the story (Joz Vammer is the composer and sound designer).
This tale introduces the wampus cat in place of the Cheshire cat, who weaves his tail in a way that puts Alice and the audience in a trance (performed by Willie Frierson Jr.). Alice wonders, where should she go, to which the cat, you may recall says, “That depends a good deal on where you want to get.”
The wampus cat refers to a most feared animal of early pioneers in the area, the panther.
In the second act, Alice stumbles upon the Mad Tea Party. This segment provides much of the humor of the story, as the party wades through its niceties and rudeness, along with many riddles and limericks.
She then agrees to deliver a letter on the Hatter’s behalf to the Queen of Hearts herself. When she enters stage left, this queen has all the sass of Dolly Parton meets drag queen, with skin-tight red bodice and leggings, sparkling boots and a sky-high updo (performed by Kristen Noonan, who also directed last fall’s Dracula, plays as the mouse in this play and serves as aerial choreographer).
Before long, everyone on stage is at the mercy of this leader’s whims, challenged to a game of marbles – a real-life size game of the sport that ends with most of the characters knocked to the ground.
The art of movement continues to astound in the second half including aerial arts, fire dancing and stage combat.
It isn’t until the final scene when the Queen conducts court over her stolen cookies that Alice seems to find herself, a brave and cunning young woman, who uncovers the madness of the queen’s court where “Sentence first – verdict afterwards” is the order. It might be in this scene over all others the satire of Carroll’s original tale carries through, and the audience probably can’t help but apply it to modern times.
The conflict soon rises to the edge-of-your-seat action sequence as the queen takes chase against all at court – Alice especially – wielding an ax. The gasps from the crowd grow louder when we hear the clink of Alice’s sword against the ax.
Alice prevails and is soon called back by a faraway voice as she wakes up from her dream world adventure.
To follow Alice down the rabbit hole, visit cherokeehistorical.org, or call the box office at 554-4557.