Theater students head down the rabbit hole with new ‘Alice’

The original staging of “Alice in Wonderland” fuses slapstick, theatrical tricks, and mysterious happenings.

More than 150 years after Lewis Carroll first wrote about Alice’s journeys, the students of the Vashon High School drama (VHS) program are finding their own way through Wonderland.

Starting with three weeks of improvisation and invention, 20 or so actors and designers have created an original staging of “Alice in Wonderland” that fuses slapstick, theatrical tricks, and mysterious happenings.

The result debuts next weekend and continues the weekend after that at the VHS theater, with five performances total.

Director and theater teacher Andy James said the play reflects the air of mystery that surrounds Carroll’s stories to this day.

“It’s one of the most successful stories in human history, and it’s hard to say why,” James said. “Everybody understands something about it, or can picture at least some of the episodes, but no one can quite explain why it still fascinates us. Theater people, in particular, return to it again and again but never solve it. Something about the idea of Wonderland, and Alice’s relative calm all the way through, make it like a dream without an end.”

The first work on “Alice” began in January, with daily workshops led by VHS junior Ila Baldwin-Snell. Armed with crates of props and costumes and yards of butcher paper, the students scrambled the episodes and reinvented familiar ideas into new imagery.

James took those ideas — and a smattering of inside jokes — and shaped them into a script.

The result makes for intriguing twists of logic for those familiar with the original stories.

Humpty Dumpty reveals the tender yolk inside his angry shell. Audiences learn what the Dormouse dreams of. And Alice herself seeks a reunion after a mysterious split into two.

Alice is played, at various moments, by Harper Hobson and Chloe Bay. The cast of 16 includes Ari Officer as the Mad Hatter, Wren Keyes as a shape-shifting Caterpillar, and Maegan McAloon-Ward as the Queen of Hearts.

The inspiration for this process was a wildly experimental “Alice in Wonderland” by the Manhattan Theatre Project, first concocted in 1970, according to James.

“The idea was for the actors to be something like children in a play space …. invent freely, and invite the audience to join in the invention,” he said. “The 1970 script is in the ‘you had to be there’ category for me. So I decided: Let’s be there now, on our own devising.”

James’ description of the results sounds, well … a little like high school itself.

“I think it’s funny and weird and kind of amazing,” he said. “It flies by.”

Showtimes are at 7 p.m. Friday, March 10 and Saturday, March 11, as well as Friday, March 17 and Saturday, March 18. A Sunday matinee on March 12 will take place at 1 p.m.

Ticket prices are $12 for general admission or $10 for students and seniors. No one will be turned away for lack of money.