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Fringe Festival : Demystifying Math With 'Numberland'

September 11, 1987|LYNNE HEFFLEY

"In my book, it's called 'Alice in Wonderland,' " a young audience member announced as Robin Scott's new play "Alice in Numberland" began at the California Museum of Science and Industry.

Faithful to Carroll's classic and to his interest in numbers (he taught mathematics), Scott's play is a clever take-off aimed at demystifying math for elementary school-age children.

The museum, still one of the most fascinating places in town, has only recently added this new dimension to its myriad hands-on displays. Part of an imaginative "Science on Stage" theater program, "Alice in Numberland" is one in a series of plays linked to exhibits on nutrition, space, medicine and mathematics.

Only 20 minutes long and using minimal sets, with wit and humor the professional production makes its points concisely: avoid confusion by learning the basics and realize that math is for everyone--from scientists to parents, shopkeepers, cooks and carpenters.

Scott winningly portrays Alice, kept after school by her teacher for not finishing her arithmetic. She falls asleep and dreams of Numberland, encountering the Mad Hatter demonstrating fractions and a puppet caterpillar who helps her see the importance of time-tables.

Alice also meets Cheshire Cool Cat, who teaches her not to be afraid of the x in algebra. This last is done rap-style and through a somewhat garbled song, "Algebra-rocky," a rough spot in the otherwise smooth production.

By this time, Alice is able to dispute the Mad Queen's assertion that math is for boys, not for girls and finds her way back to her classroom by using her head.

Michael Sicilia ably handles the roles of Cat, Hatter and Mad Queen. Scott's costumes are clever as is Jose Payo's blackboard/Numberland set. Vernon Bennett and Jason Dana direct with a light touch.

Free performances, part of the L.A. Fringe Festival, continue at 700 State Drive in Exposition Park on Wednesdays, 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., through Sept. 23, and on Saturdays, 2 and 3:30 p.m. through Oct. 2; (213) 744-7435).

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