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'Looking Glass' Delights With Whimsy

February 21, 1996|CORINNE FLOCKEN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

LAGUNA BEACH — One fine summer's day, a gentleman accompanied a trio of young ladies on a river outing. Feeling a bit restless, one of the girls, Alice by name, begged their escort to tell them a story with "plenty of nonsense in it."

The man obliged, spinning a tale of an adventurous young miss in a land of croquet-playing cards and tea-swilling rabbits--a story that would give rise to a second tale as oddly engaging as the first.

The gentleman in question was Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, better known to readers worldwide as Lewis Carroll, the British author of "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" (1865) and its companion, "Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There" (1871).

The Laguna Playhouse Youth Theatre's delightful staging of "Through the Looking Glass" would have suited the original Miss Alice to a T, as well.

Staged by youth-theater director Joe Lauderdale from an adaptation by Rosemary Nursey-Bray, "Looking Glass" is a topsy-turvy romp through Carroll's Looking Glass Land, a place where everything is quite back to front and where, like the White Queen, one can easily believe "a dozen impossible things [happen] before breakfast."

The play is suggested for ages 5 and older but contains one scene that may even unnerve some 5- and 6-year-olds.

For those who know Alice through the Disney movie, "Through the Looking Glass" may be a bit befuddling at first because the film tapped characters from both Alice books. But no matter. If anything, this production proves that befuddlement can be a delightful state indeed. In the opening scene, we meet a drowsy Alice (Sara Buskirk) playing a game of chess with her cat under the watchful eyes of a large hearth mirror.

Through a pleasing bit of stage magic, Alice finds herself on the other side of the looking glass, maneuvering on a giant chessboard peopled by oversized chess pieces and other outlandish characters.

In her travels across the board, she contends with a peevish Red Queen (Erica Waddell), the loopy White Queen (Lisa Hale), the puckish twins, Tweedledee and Tweedledum (Shade Remelin and Grant Ginder) and others in her quest to become a queen herself.

*

Each move across the board results in a new encounter, and with each encounter, the once common-sensical Alice becomes more and more caught up in the folly.

Thanks to Lauderdale's finely tuned sense of whimsy and the skill of his mostly 9- to 18-year-old cast, particularly Buskirk as Alice and Marc Ravenhill and Hale as the wacko White King and Queen, the audience is swept easily along in the fun.

The show does take a while to get rolling, however. Nursey-Bray's script labors early on, resulting in a dialogue-heavy first act. A lengthy, dark and somewhat edgy enactment of Carroll's poem, "The Jabberwock" (you remember, "Twas brillig, and the slith toves/Did gyre and gimble in the wabe . . .") dominates the latter part of that act.

Punctuated by David Edwards' creepy sounds and Chris Holmes' huge black-lit Jabberwock puppet, the scene rattled some younger viewers at last Saturday's evening performance. But it also helped peel away some of the confusion that has long surrounded that perplexing verse.

The mood is lighter in the second act, aided by scenes between Alice and a name-dropping Humpty Dumpty (a wonderfully expressive Gregory Sickles--turned out in one of the show's best costumes) and an off-kilter jousting match between the White Knight (M. J. Seiber) and the Red Knight (Will Townsend, who doubles as the Red King).

Dwight Richard Odle's costumes were delightfully inventive and Jay Proskovec's lighting helped transport the audience through the fantasy world nicely, though the extensive use of strobes gets pretty tedious. Athena Gam's outlandish props, particularly in the Jabberwock and jousting scenes, were a winning touch.

* "Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There," Moulton Theater, 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach. Thursday-Friday, 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, 2 and 7:30 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m. Ends Sunday. (714) 497-9244. Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Sara Buskirk: Alice

Will Townsend: Red King, Red Knight

Erica Waddell: Red Queen

Marc Ravenhill: White King

Lisa Hale: White Queen

Grant Ginder: Tweedledum

Shade Remelin: Tweedledee

Gregory Sickles: Humpty Dumpty

Kylee Rousselot: Lion

Amy Lang: Unicorn

M. J. Seiber: White Knight

A Laguna Playhouse Youth Theatre production of Rosemary Nursey-Bray's adaptation of the book by Lewis Carroll. Directed by Joe Lauderdale. Set design: Joe Lauderdale. Prop design: Athena Gam. Costumes: Dwight Richard Odle. Lighting: Jay Proskovec. Sound design: David Edwards. Fight choreography and stage manager: Brad Bredeweg.

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