More than 150 years after Lewis Carroll first concocted his hallucinatory “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” the central question of the story remains the same: in the midst of all the chaos and noise of the world, how do any of us figure out the impossible puzzle of who we are?
This is the Caterpillar’s quandary, of course, and also Alice’s — a character who, while inhabiting a body whose size keeps changing, must navigate the overheated emotions of strangers in a world that makes no sense and is filled with increasingly absurd and sometimes life-threatening scenarios.
All of these elements of the story, of course, are ripe for exploration by high school students, who can no doubt relate.
And this is what makes Vashon High School’s new, original production of “Alice in Wonderland” so exciting to watch.
The show’s tight ensemble of 18 performers, aided and abetted by additional talented students working behind the scenes, have succeeded in making the intricate and nonsensical story shine.
VHS’s “Alice” was written by theater teacher and show director Andy James, after students first explored the Alice story in improvisation workshops, led by student Ila Baldwin-Snell — another important exercise in trust and collaborative creation for budding theater-makers.
What has resulted is a demanding, boldly physical, complex, and comic show, one the students have embraced as a true ensemble. The cast members have each other’s backs, and hold each other up — and sometimes upside down — quite literally throughout the proceedings.
The show also features an exciting guitar score performed live on stage by students Wyatt Bates and Jonah Cole, whose sometimes melodic and sometimes discordant music moves the non-linear story along.
Onstage, the ensemble is a family. They’re home. And that’s a beautiful thing to witness in any show, but particularly, a high school show.
Long live high school theater programs — they are spaces of joyous creation, self-discovery and affirmation for many students who might not otherwise be involved in “team” activities.
Vibrant theater programs build community and are a magnet, attracting more students to attend the schools that invest in them. All high schools need to hold these spaces for youth, and we hope our own district’s support of its theater program continues and grows.
And if anyone needs any convincing of this, all they have to do is go see “Alice.”
Every single actor on the stage, and every single student who worked behind the scenes, deserves kudos for their work, but as is the case in any proper theater review, a few should get special mentions.
The versatile multi-level set and the multitude of props, by Ila Baldwin-Snell, Jem Macomber-Straight, Carrie Kozlowski, Wren Keyes and Tracy Barrett, are a considerable feat of construction, and lighting by Ozzy McDonald and costumes and make-up by Stephanie Blower, Frances Alexander, Eden Guthery and Lyra Shannon, all add ably to the dreamscape.
The show’s two Alices, Harper Hobson and Chloe Bay, who seem to be everywhere, all at once on the stage, convincingly capture many of the contradictory emotions of the iconic character: her insatiable sense of curiosity, her peevishness at times, and her great bravery.
Wren Keyes both comically and gracefully embodies the Caterpillar’s exhilarating and exhausting journey, while Ella Saffery imbues their character, the tiny and timid Dormouse, with an oversized, dancerly presence and personality.
Ian Ingalls, Henry Sutherland and Charles Richards nail the clownish characters of Humpty Dumpty, Tweedledee and Tweedledum, and Maeghan Rose is a no-holds-barred, hilariously homicidal Queen of Hearts.
But all the other cast members — Chris Wechkin, Dakota McBride, Sky Siena, Amali Lewis, Ari Officer, Isaac Huff, Delilah Spence and CJ Clemensen — are also superb in their work, taking no prisoners as they keep up with the demands of their various roles, juggle props, engage in shadow-play behind the set, and drive the show home.
It’s a real pleasure, as an audience member, to go along for the ride.
“Alice in Wonderland” will continue its run at 7 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, March 17 and 18. Tickets are $12 for general admission or $10 for students and seniors, but no one will be turned away for lack of money.