By Jordan Wright (Photo/Johnny Shryock)
Alice is very, very unhappy. She has had to surrender her favorite playthings to a recently hired cruel-hearted governess, Ms. Prickett (Renata Veberyte Loman, later seen in the role of the Queen), who eats her tarts, insists she recite poetry and insults her intelligence.
In Synetic Theater’s dark retelling and merging of Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking-Glass,” director Paata Tsikurishvili takes us down the rabbit hole to a fantasy world unlike any other. After all, this is Synetic Theater: Did you expect a fairy tale? Lloyd Rose’s script adaption, divided into twelve parts, keeps the madcap charm yet affords little room for niceties.
This is an upside down world — fraught with danger, nonsensical creatures and twisted logic — and Alice (Kathy Gordon) intends to sort it all out and in the process teach Wonderland’s inhabitants a few lessons in common sense. At the outset, she finds her toys have morphed into the Cheshire Cat (Alex Mills) and the White Rabbit (Tori Bertocci), who lead her into an ever more phantasmagorical dimension, filled with shrouded creatures of the night that feed her cakes to change her size so she can enter a tiny portal to the realm of the Queen of Hearts.
Alice eventually arrives at the tea party, where she meets up with the Mad Hatter (Dallas Tolentino), Dormouse (Zana Gankhuyag, who graces us later as the Lobster) and the March Hare (Justin J. Bell, who does double-duty as the King). “It’s always tea time,” they riddle her pop-locking to electronica and calliope in this carnival-like atmosphere.
Costume designer Kendra Rai does not disappoint. Well known to Synetic fans and the Helen Hayes Awards committee, who bestowed upon her the 2015 Outstanding Costume Design Award for her work on last season’s “The Island of Dr. Moreau,” she has outdone herself with eye-popping creations.
The Queen’s guard, as you’ll recall, are playing cards that dash about looking for heads to chop off, as per Her Majesty’s whims. But it’s Tweedle Dee (Augustin Beall) and Tweedle Dum (Thomas Beheler) as punk rockers that nearly steal the show reciting “The Jabberwocky,” “Twas brillig, and the slithy toves did gyre and gimble in the wabe: All mimsy were the borogroves, And the mome raths outgrabe,” finishing with a high-five.
I’ll admit it is one of my favorite bits of nonsense poetry and I was totally captivated by this odd duo in leather jackets and spiky mohawks reciting Carroll’s famous 19th-century verse.
Humpty Dumpty (Vato Tsikurishvili) makes a brief appearance before his precipitous fall, confounding Alice with the pronouncement, “When I use a word it means what I choose it to be. You can’t let words have the last word.” But it’s the Queen’s appearance at the garden party, replete with towering red pompadour and black and white patent leather dress plumped up with paniers, that blows our minds. “Off with their heads!” she familiarly commands as she neatly tucks a croquet ball into a wicket.
Resident choreographer Irina Tsikurishvili works her magic, filling the stage with phenomenal dancers, especially Mills, who in one scene as the Cheshire Cat toys with a mouse, undulates, contorts and twists his lithe body into unimaginable feline positions, bending in half to lick his leg and slinking onto one of scenic designer Daniel Pinha’s giant arcing scaffolds to avoid discovery.