Why is a raven like a writing desk?

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

By Deborah Lynn Frockt
Adapted from the stories by Lewis Caroll
Directed by Bruce Merrill
Manhattan Children's Theatre
380 Broadway 4th fl. (212/226-4085)
Non-union production (closes May 11)
Review by Charles Battersby

For a pro-drug novel written by an alleged pedophile, Alice is surprisingly popular as a children's-theatre piece. Sadly most people are more familiar with the Disney movie than with Lewis Caroll's two novels: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass And What Alice Found There. The Manhattan Children's Theatre adaptation is actually based on both books (which were originally published in a single volume). Rather, it is LOOSELY based on Caroll's works, consisting of a dozen or so scenes from both books, smooshed together, with an original prolog and epilog.

Fans of Caroll's work will be dismayed that most of the anti-government and anti-society wit that Caroll snuck into the text has been removed from this production, as was all of the drug imagery. Alice didn't use "Magic" 'shrooms to change size and the Caterpillar didn't even have a hookah!

Caroll's books were intended specifically for the real Alice (yes, there really was an Alice, Alice Liddell), and were never intended for mass publication. The humor was also intended for Victorian English children, and 21st-century American children with their Pokemon, Internet, and Gamecubes may not be the best target audience. Deborah Lynn Frockt's adaptation ran on too long for its target audience, and at one hour and 15 minutes it exceeded the attention span of your typical six-year-old. The individual scenes themselves were also too long (when deprived of its narrative, Carroll's nonsensical dialogue looses its appeal after a few minutes). The children in the audience showed obvious signs of boredom, and few parents seemed enthralled either.

Contributing to the script problems was the fact that the cast tended to ham it up too much, even for children's theatre. Alice (Lisanne Marie) was continually laying it on too thick, with the entire supporting cast being too broad in their characterizations as well. Jody Flader and Paula Ehrenberg were the best of the pack, reigning in their performances more firmly than the others. Although the cast did commit to their roles, the campy presentation proved too strong.

The costumes (Staci Shember) were ambitious, often built right into set pieces (Christie Phillips), such as the Caterpillar and the mushroom he sat upon, but a lack of resources made both the sets and costumes fail to live up to their designers' intentions. There was too much cardboard used for the sets, and there were too many simplified costumes intended for quick changes.

The underpowered lighting equipment in the venue left much to be desired, and lighting designer Kevin J. Hardy had no choice but to use simplistic effects. Composer David Braynard contributed a bit to the show, particularly during the scene changes, but his interpretation of the "Lobster Quadrille" outlasted the audience's interest, as did so many other scenes in this show.

The director (Bruce Merrill)'s presence was not felt strongly in this production. With hundreds of theatre and film adaptations of Alice out there, Merrill did little to distinguish this production as a unique view of the piece.

(Also featuring Rick Birnbaum, Kristofer Kauff and David Look.)

Box Score:

Writing: 1
Directing: 1
Acting: 1
Sets: 1
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 2003 Charles Battersby