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THEATER REVIEW 'ALICE IN WONDERLAND' : Not Kid Stuff : A Santa Paula troupe's colorful adaptation of the subtle classic keeps its young audience amused.

August 22, 1991|TODD EVERETT | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

An adaptation of Lewis Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland" currently playing at the Santa Paula Theater Center raises this question: Will a generation of children raised on the Smurfs even begin to comprehend the subtleties of Carroll's multidimensional "Alice"?

There are talking animals, but much of what they say consists of obscure puns (when was the last time you served your family mock turtle soup?) and mathematical and political references that were probably more comprehensible to well-educated 19th-Century adults than to their progeny.

Today's parents need a guide to understand the "children's" book that was, after all, written by an academic probably as much for his own amusement as that of young Alice Liddell--whose classics scholar father's own accomplishments include a Greek-to-English dictionary.

Dealing with "Alice" is quite a challenge, then, with the gauntlet fearlessly picked up by the Santa Paula group's youth-directed Hundred Hats Theater for Young People.

Judging from a performance last week, the young members of the audience missed much of what was under the surface, but were sufficiently amused by the colorful characters, sometimes dazzling costumes, and bustling action.

In his director's notes, Jeff S. Garcia states that he adapted Carroll's work ". . .in as pure a fashion as I could."

Purity, in this case, consists of trimming down the story to a few familiar episodes, and borrowing a couple more from Carroll's sequel, "Through the Looking-Glass."

So we have the White Rabbit, Dormouse, Cheshire Cat and Mock Turtle, and the Mad Tea Party, croquet and trial scenes from "Alice," but we also discover "Looking-Glass" twins Tweedledum and Tweedledee.

The acting is what you would expect from children, but at least most know their lines and don't trip over the scenery. Windy Lires is an able Alice.

The strongest points are imaginative design and the costumes, credited to Wanda Thompson and Frances Erwin and based on the classic illustrations of John Tenniel.

During the show reviewed, some of the lighting was off-kilter, with various characters wandering into the darkness and the Cheshire Cat all but invisible from beginning to end.

* WHERE AND WHEN

"Alice in Wonderland" concludes this Sunday at the Santa Paula Theater Center, 127 S. 7th St. Performances are at 4 p.m. today, 7 p.m. tomorrow and Saturday, and at 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $7; $5 for those under 17. For reservations or more information, call (805) 525-4645.

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