Through the looking canvas

Painted Alice

William Donnelly
Directed by Jeremy Skidmore
The Sonnet Repertory Theatre
The Abingdon Theatre Arts Complex
Equity showcase (closed)
Review by Charles Battersby

Those who suspect that the Alice in Painted Alice is a reference to Lewis Caroll's work are correct. It's not an adaptation, but rather an original story heavily inspired by Wonderland and Looking Glass. In Painted Alice, Alice is a painter (rather than paintED as the title would have it) who has recently acquired a wealthy patron but finds herself unable to produce the work she was hired to create. In addition to her lack of inspiration, Alice is having troubles with her girlfriend Dinah and is troubled over the recent suicide of a fellow artist.

Lewis Carroll nerds will rejoice that the play is crammed with Alice references: some are pretty obvious, like a can of soda that says "Drink me" and others so subtle that they're almost subliminal (like a noisy baby named Pepper -- get it?). It has a mad tea party, or rather a mad cocktail party at a pretentious art bar. It has drugs, using "magic" brownies instead of

"magic" mushrooms. Tweedle Dum And Tweedle Dee appear in the form of Sugar and Sucre, a pair of artists who debate artistry vs. commercialism. There's also a Mr. Griffin, who has a slow-speaking friend named Sheldon (mock turtle -- get it?), and a regal woman who plays golf (instead of croquet -- get it???).

Alice steps through a blank canvas just like a looking glass, too. Of course it needn’t be pointed out that Alice's girlfriend (Katrina Kent) is named Dinah, just like Alice’s cat in the books (insert any pussy joke you can think of here).

At times the story can get pretentious. Alice (Kathleen Coons) steps through her canvas and encounters the above-mentioned Wonderland metaphors for the art community, and begins exploring the difference between art for profit

and art for art's sake. When artists deconstruct art, it can get rather ... esoteric.

The production was a staged reading that used no costumes or set, but the cast wore uniform black and sat in identical chairs. Stage directions were read aloud by a narrator (Brian Sutherin) discreetly tucked away in the upper left

corner of the stage. There were a handful of lighting effects used, such as a rectangular white light projected onto the upstage wall that represented the blank canvas Alice used as a portal to Wonderland, and a red wash that came up when Alice entered Wonderland, reminiscent of Dorothy’s Technicolored arrival in Oz. Most scenes had blocking, yet many were just actors sitting in chairs, with scripts, though props were frequently employed; the overall effect was more than a reading, yet not quite a workshop.

Director Jeremy Skidmore selected an all-around superb cast, most of whom played multiple roles, employing excellent voice work to differentiate between their characters. Michael Ray Escamilla demonstrated the greatest variety in vocal characterization, and was particularly amusing as Sheldon the Mock Turtle, but the cast as a whole pulled off their multiple roles convincingly.

(Also featuring: Kaitlin Hopkins and Sean Kent.)

Box Score:

Writing: 1
Directing: 2
Acting: 2
Sets: N/A
Costumes: N/A
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 2003 Charles Battersby