‘Alice’ Adaptation Delivers Apt Appreciation

By: Calindez DeShaun Edwards, ITJA Contributor

“Who in the World Am I?” At some point all have faced this essential question. Alice does, in Belmont University Theatre’s Production of Alice, Ara Vito’s adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’. One of the main reasons this masterpiece of literary nonsense has maintained its relevance in popular culture for over 150 years is simply due to the fact that it is one of most accessible stories of all time on a child’s search for self-confidence.

The show’s entire production team is sparkling with amazing girl power. The magnificent Madeline Marconi as Alice leads a stellar all-female cast and the majority of the production’s crew are women. Designer Caroline Nott’s innovative costumes add extra layers of depth and dimension to the already impressive production. The Cat, the Caterpillar and the gauzy behemoth Jabberwocky stand out as colorful, quirky creations, radiating like rainbows against the all-white set.

Playwright Ara Vito obviously has a deep appreciation for Carroll’s text. She has taken great care in crafting her impressive update not only to preserve Alice’s integrity but also to establish her as more of an aggressive tumbler akin to The Hunger Games’ Katniss Everdeen and less of a woebegone, doe-eyed waif. Vito’s adaptation initially finds this new, millennial Alice as an oddly mature, self-aware tween whose contentious relationship with her parents has dire consequences on her self-worth.  Yet ultimately, Alice discovers that she didn’t know her own strength.

Fortunately, ‘Alice’ skips the urge to demystify its wonderment, securely guaranteeing the wondrous land of wonders is still the place we remember. Creator Lewis Carroll, imagined as a real character in this adaptation, accompanies Alice on her adventure through the magical mystery mirror. Don’t get it twisted; this 21st century Alice is not reliant on a man or a silly white rabbit to steer her through Wonderland. Vito’s crafty addition of Carroll as Alice’s sidekick whose more than happy to ride shotgun placing Alice firmly in the driver’s seat. This could be perceived as commenting on the transformation of gender roles over the last 150 years. But one never really knows…does one?

Director Brent Maddox tinkers not only with Carroll’s original conception of Alice as a naïve ingénue but also her meaning and purpose in these postmodern times.  The simple fact that the iconic peroxide blond Disney princess is now rocking a mousy, dull brown coif, is our first clue that the script has indeed been flipped . While Maddox artfully weaves an captivating web of action around the adapted Alice and her internal and external struggles, he thankfully manages to keep the show sprinting forward.

Paul Gatrell’s exemplary scene design is a marvel to behold with a myriad of simple complexities.  Its massive staircases are not only mobile and intertwining, they are also luxuriously draped in sheer valances, as Alice’s portable stairway to heaven continuously morphs into multiple shape-shifting variations. The Queen of Hearts’ crimson-kissed tower of power is a fantastic formation of the converting set’s inventive ingenuity evoking an otherworldly, ethereal impression.

Maggie Jackson’s ingenious lighting design and Kyle Odum’s unique sound design, with its compelling classical music score, are  additional brilliant technical elements in the production. Everything old is new again and thoroughly modern Alice is no exception to the rule. This refreshing adaptation provides a sophisticated and intelligent twist on an old, old tale. The reason Alice has endured the ages, as the quintessential little girl lost because as she discovers her own inner strength, we access those lost remnants of our own childhood innocence.