REVIEW: Lookingglass Alice (Lookingglass Theatre)

A vaudeville-circus-magic-show-theater extravaganza!

Lauren Hirte, Molly Brennan

  
Lookingglass Theatre and The Actors Gymnasium present
  
Lookingglass Alice
  
Adapted and directed by David Catlin
Adapted from the stories of
Lewis Carroll
at
Water Tower Works, 821 N. Michigan (map)
through August 1st  |  tickets: $32-$64   |  more info 

reviewed by Katy Walsh

Shoes drop, floors open, balls fly, it’s a typical vaudeville-circus-magic show-theatrical extravaganza.

Lookingglass Theatre presents Lookingglass Alice, the adaption of the classic fairytales that also gave birth to the theatre company’s name and mission – Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking Glass”. Alice swallows a ‘Drink Me’ potion that sends her on a fantasy journey. She interacts with lookingglass-posternonsensical characters like the Red Queen, Cheshire Cat, and Mad Hatter. Unlike most childhood fable storylines, Alice isn’t looking to be rescued by a prince. She  wants to experience life, meet interesting people/talking animals and become queen. Lookingglass Alice is the perfect illustration of independent thinking for the next generation. Lookingglass Theatre imagines Alice’s adventures as a whimsical array of slapstick, aerial, hocus-pocus and dramatic spectacle.

The drama starts preshow. Upon entering the theatre, the room has been divided with a black curtain. In the middle of the curtain, it looks like a framed mirror. Upon inspection, it’s determined to be actually a window to the audience on the other side. Each side experiences a preliminary scene with either Alice or Charles Dodgson aka Lewis Carroll. The emersion of experiences happens in a black silk rippling flourish. Adaptor and director David Catlin uses multiple visual techniques to give the story a deserved quirky manifestation. Performers switch characters. Picnic baskets become doors. The audience joins the action. It’s all mirrors and illusions.

In the lead, Lauren Hirte (Alice) is petite. Hirte is believable as the precarious and defiant young girl standing up to the queen. Her childlike demeanor goes away as she balances a man on her knees and then tumbles into a series of stand-up somersaults. Knowing Hirte is actually not a kid helps when she goes aerial with some ‘does your mother know what you’re doing?’ stunts.

The entire ensemble is in sync with comedy and physicality. Molly Brennan (Red Queen and others) cuts off Alice’s “I mean to say” with a hilarious delivered, “I don’t think it’s mean to say- maybe lookingglass-molly brennan as the red queenrude. Off with her head.” Even draped in various vibrant costumes, Brennan’s facial expressions steal the comic focal point. Her interactions with Kevin Douglas (Mad Hatter and others) and Anthony Fleming (Cheshire Cat and Others) are synchronization fascination. Whether they are running across chairs or jumping on each other, their high jinx exploit the funny side of gymnastics.

Lookingglass Alice is Lookingglass Theatre’s loving, frolicking tribute to a father they never met. How inspired that it should be actualized as a family-focused showcase! The production kicks up the familiar story with imagination realization and spikes it with comedy. I prescribe that all families should swallow the ‘Drink Me’ potion and go on the fantasy journey together!

  
  
Rating: ★★★½
   

 

 

Running Time: Ninety minutes with no intermission

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REVIEW: Science Fiction Circus (The Actors Gymnasium)

Cute kids, talented teens and a few pros create marvelous science-fiction circus

 Science Fiction: An Experiment in Circus

 
The Actors Gymnasium presents
 
Science Fiction: An Experiment in Circus
 
Conceived, written and directed by Larry DiStasi
At Noyes Cultural Arts Center, Evanston
Through April 18
(more info)
 
reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes
 

Five professional performers, eleven up-and-coming members of The Actors Gymnasium Teen Ensemble and five pint-sized prodigies bring the high-flying Science Fiction: An Experiment in Circus to life in a whirl of color and sound.

Robots, aliens, monsters and an impressive lineup of circus acts come together in this show, conceived and directed by The Actors Gymnasium Artistic Director of Programming Larry DiStasi, a founder of Lookingglass Theatre. We start off with a quartet of mini mad scientists and their unfortunate subject (Griffin DiStasi, Jude Sims, Sadie Sims, Asher White and Julia Science Fiction: An Experiment in CircusWhite), and then segue into a black-lit, fluorescent team of talented, silk-rope-swinging aerialists (Jill Heyser and Kacin Menendez with Teen Ensemble member Meaghan Falvey).

A unicycle dance featuring all 11 members of the Teen Ensemble: Falvey, Gabby Aiden, Lucy Brennan, Sarah Buonaiuto, Lander Ellis, Emily Fishkin, Eleanor Goerss, Jackie Jarvis, Rachel Karn, Leah Orleans and Alison Tye — comes next, followed by Matt Roben as a monster Slinky twisting and contorting around the stage.

Karn, Tye and Nicole Pellegrino next perform an extraordinary and graceful contortionist sequence. Other noteworthy acts include a dance of "Stilts Creatures" by Heyser, Menendez and Pellegrino with Buonaiuto, Ellis and Falvey, a robot strong man act by Menedez and Will Howard, and a whirling Spanish web rope routine by Buonaiuto, Ellis, Fishkin and Orleans.

Another highlight is a vigorous drumming act choreographed by Jarrett Dapier featuring Pellegrino, Falvey and the five children, all delightfully clad as aliens in Spock ears and armor constructed from kitchen gear and designed by Larry DiStasi. Throughout, the costumes, a group effort, compliment the action beautifully, from blacklit neon leotards for aerialists to shiny lame robot outfits.

During interludes between the circus acts, a live band featuring Ellis, Goerss and Roben, sometimes supplemented by Griffin DiStasi, Fishkin and the Whites, plays original music by Greg Hirte, including an eerie trio on oboe, violin and musical saw. The circus acts themselves are performed in perfect time to a riveting soundtrack of found music put together by Larry DiStasi with aid of other cast members that ranges from part of "The Symphony of Science" to Daft Punk’s "Robot Rock” to Basshunter’s "I Can Walk on Water."

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The science-fiction theme creates a cohesive and humorous narrative to hold things together. In all, Science Fiction comprises a notable 30 acts and intervening scenes. On opening night, there were a few missteps but everyone gamely kept on going. Having recently seen the world-class Cirque du Soleil, I don’t need a time machine to say that these young performers are well on their way, and you can see them now for a fraction of the price they’ll command in days to come.

Rating: ★★★½

 
   
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