Like the Disney adaptation, the Park Players' take on the Lewis Carroll classic gleefully reworks its source material with an abandon that would make an absurdist like Carroll himself smile. Based primarily on Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There, the sequel to Carroll's popular Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, this version gleefully folds in iconic scenes from its predecessor, like the tea party and the trial, just because. We're already dealing with talking walruses and Jabberwocks. Why be overly precious?
We chatted with director Sarah Hedeen at the opening of the play (repackaged as Alice Through the Looking Glass), who told us she's been working with the Park Players as an actor, director, and producer for 20 years. Though she tells us that the 75-year-old North Rosedale Park Community House is slated for renovations next year, at the present the players pull off a convincing fantasy using the theater's current modest accommodations.
There's the costuming — a steampunk pastiche of styles anchored by stark red, white, black, and plaid patterns, evocative of the playing card and chessboard motifs of the story. A multiracial and multi-generational cast bring Carroll's weird characters to life, from the Mad Hatter (played by Hedeen's husband) to a troupe of ballet-dancing flowers (who got their own ovation at intermission, since it was their bedtime). Add a set that appears to be equally inspired by Tim Burton as it does the Heidelberg Project, and you have what amounts to a very charming — and very Detroit — take on Alice.
Katy Schoetzow shines as the titular character, carrying the play by conveying both a girlish innocence and an animated cartoon character quality. We're told by Hedeen that Schoetzow has a background in dance, and it shows — adding a physical comedy to her performance as she somersaults, twirls, and tumbles through the play's phantasmagoria of scenes. In fact, much of the performances revolve around physical comedy as they do Carroll's mind-bending wordplay — like the boxing scene that takes place entirely in slow motion, or another scene in which the players interpret riding on a train that jumps over obstacles like brooks, or the portly, precariously balancing Humpty Dumpty, who seems like he actually might roll off his wall. We'd be surprised if the players aren't nursing some major bruises after the show's run.
For the most part, Alice's strange adventure breezily clips along — provided you learn to stop worrying and just love the bombast. After awhile you're forced to just sit back and watch the insanity unfold in front of you. As Alice herself notes, "I don't think there's an atom of meaning in any of this."
Alice Through the Looking Glass will be showing 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 21 and Saturday, Nov. 22, and 2 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 23 at the North Rosedale Park Community House, 18445 Scarsdale, Detroit; parkplayers.wordpress.com; 313-835-1103. $16, $14 for students and seniors, $12 12 and under.