The Daily Tar Heel

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Friday January 22nd

LAB!’s ‘Alice’ dazzles, overwhelms

“We’re all mad here,” said nine grinning actors, all playing the Cheshire Cat, in unison.

They weren’t far off the mark.

“Alice: A devised Alice in Wonderland project”

Time: 5 p.m. tonight
Location: Center for Dramatic Arts, Room 102
4 of 5 stars

LAB! Theatre’s production of “Alice: A devised Alice in Wonderland project” certainly is mad, almost dizzyingly so.

The experimental play presents a refreshing take on Lewis Carroll’s works, but it needs a few quieter moments in all the chaos.

LAB!’s “Alice” is a nonlinear take on the classic story with select scenes from “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking-Glass.” The abstract structure works well with the nonsense of Carroll’s text, which remains unchanged for the most part.

Each member of the ensemble cast plays Alice at least once, as well as a host of other characters. Each interpretation of Alice is different, allowing the audience to see all sides of the character: curious, lonely, indignant, immature, confused and afraid.

But the pace barely gives the audience time to connect with her.

Lasting about an hour, the play moves from scene to scene at a chaotic pace.

Some of the most poignant moments happen when Alice is alone with her thoughts — but this only happens a few brief times before the audience is whisked away.

The audience participates in the play as well. The ensemble invites members of the audience to be oysters in “The Walrus and the Carpenter” and to play croquet with the Queen of Hearts.

The actors speak directly to the audience, providing improvised commentary.

The ensemble works well together, whether that means playing off each other’s characters or pretending to be a tea table or a mushroom. Each actor overflows with energy, embracing all the madness of Wonderland.

With virtually no stage lighting, no set and few props, the production works well with what it has. The seating is arranged in a square around the classroom so the audience has nowhere to hide. Props are sparse but simple enough that it’s easy to recognize what represents a character, which is particularly crucial when the actors are constantly switching roles.

The lighting frames the play within a dream. The lights are turned off and the actors start rhythmically drumming when Alice goes down the rabbit hole. When the dream is over, the actors scream, “Wake up!” and turn off the lights again.

Just like Alice, the audience is left to question what was real. The mixed-up scenes of LAB!’s “Alice” become like scenes remembered from a forgotten dream.

LAB!’s exploration is an lighthearted and nonsensical production that fully embraces the spirit of Carroll’s books. But a slower pace would make the show resonate more with the audience.

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