Alice in Wonderland at Surfside Playhouse features Dorothy Wright as Queen of Hearts, Sage Parrish as Alice and Gordon Ringer as Mad Hatter.
By PAM HARBAUGH
When Alice falls down that rabbit hole at Surfside Playhouse, one thing is perfectly clear: She’s not in Kansas anymore.
Wait. That was a different story.
Nevertheless, Surfside Playhouse’s season finale, its production of “Alice in Wonderland,” should get audiences scratching their heads wondering if they’ve landed in a children’s program. But not to worry, although this sounds like children’s theater, this “Alice” has an adult layer to it and is designed to appeal to all ages, says director Bryan Bergeron.
Indeed. Just look at Bergeron’s cast of A-list performers from Brevard’s theater scene. Many of the 32 cast members have quite the community theater pedigree throughout the county; their resumes are loaded with serious drama, gutsy musicals and adult farce.
Now, they are telling the Lewis Carroll’s famous Victorian story about a little girl, Alice, who falls into a rabbit hole. As she tries to find nourishment in the Mad Hatter’s tea party, or gets advice from a Cheshire Cat, she finds that life keeps growing “curiouser and curiouser.”
The entire cast appears to be having too much fun prancing about in wild costumes, slipping into arch villainess, gaming the goofy, and bending the gender.
Terrence Girard, arguably Brevard’s best-known stage actor, takes on the role of the Duchess. Annie England, another very well respected dramatic actor, is the Caterpillar. Girard loves the idea of “toying with gender.”
“Carroll has another character describe (the Duchess) as ‘very, very ugly’ which works out well as I don’t make for a very attractive lady,” said Girard.
(Although eschewing type casting, Girard did take on the role of Lady Bracknell in Melbourne Civic Theatre’s 2011 production of “The Importance of Being Earnest.”)
In her role of the Caterpillar, England, a most elegant woman at the very least, gets made up in blue makeup and costume, then positions herself on a giant mushroom and smokes a hookah.
“(That) is a first for me,” she said. “Bryan Bergeron has directed a hilarious show with talented Wonderland characters that is not just for kids or adults. It’s a wild ride for every age.”
Gordon Ringer describes his role of the Mad Hatter as: “A purveyor of fine headwear, and a avid partaker of that wondrous elixir of ambrosia…tea. Any tea. Hot Tea, Ice Tea, Breakfast Tea, Insanit-Tea.”
Bergeron has a deep background of his own producing professional touring children’s shows, but he likes to make Surfside’s final show of the season one that is good for all ages. He also expects the big final show will draw great talents to audition at the beachside theater.
While most area theaters may have scores of actors auditioning for every show, Surfside typically draws in fewer, Bergeron said. So he makes sure to plan a show that will have deep appeal.
“All the theaters compete for talent,” he said. “I had 78 people audition (for ‘Alice’). It was the most all season.”
While planning served him somewhat, serendipity should be taking the big bow. More than a year ago, when the season was being planned, no one could have even imagined our current political climate of intense ideological warring.
“Given the state of national politics, I think many of us are feeling a bit ‘Through the Looking Glass’ nowadays,” Girard said. “While Alice may not comment on our current circumstances overtly, its glances at truth versus illusion, and the nature of power and dominance are certainly timely. Plus, it’s funny stuff and Bryan’s going to a layer of wackiness that goes beyond Lewis Carroll’s original text.”
In addition to political parody, Bergeron said there is darkness inherent in Lewis Carroll’s story – the Queen chopping off heads, a hooka-smoking caterpillar, being engulfed in a pool of tears. But not to worry, the kiddies won’t be bothered.
Dorothy Ann Wright calls her character, The Queen of Hearts, “Fifty Shakes of Terror.”
“Even when she is not angry, she is still angry,” Wright said. “She bullies those who are spineless and weak. Those who show any strength of will or defiance are seen as a threat to her ability to maintain control and therefore must be eliminated.”
However, Wright said, “The show is very colorful and should be something enjoyable for all ages.”
The adaptation Bergeron chose was written by Brainerd Duffield. It dramatizes 14 episodes from Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking Glass.”
“It rearranges some of the scenes a bit to make the show more linear and a little more of a hero’s journey,” he said. “The novel of course is so rich with wordplay. But you can only put so much of that into a play.”
To create the rich fantasy world into which Alice tumbles, Bergeron turned to his team of volunteer artists and especially to his props master, Mark Papson.
Papson is a retired professional properties master whose last professional gig was on the hit television show “The Big Bang Theory.”
Props are usually a “forgotten department,” said Bergeron. But someone had to come up with fantastical items like oversized teacups and flamingo mallets.
“For the Mad Hatter scene, he found the right kind of bowls, made handles and screwed them together,” Bergeron said. “What Mark brings to the table is a creative eye, ingenuity and a meticulous attention to detail.”
Wanting to get the look just so, costume designer Kim Welborn constructed most pieces from foam in order to create a “classic cartoon” look.
“Costumes are looking good,” Bergeron said. “They’re very creative.
“We wanted a show that would stretch our technical ability in costuming, makeup, props and scenery. ‘Alice’ does this in spades.”
Sage Parrish, who is Alice, and Miranda Kane, who is the Cheshire Cat, both call the show “quirky.”
“The show is looking so amazing,” Kane said. “The audience is going to love it.”
This is an edited version of a story running next week in the Melbourne Beachsider.
SIDE O’ GRITS: “Alice in Wonderland” opens Friday and runs through June 11 at Surfside Playhouse, 301 Ramp Road (5th Street South), Cocoa Beach. It performs at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays. Tickets start at $25 with discounts for students, seniors and military. Call 321- 783-3127, visit SurfsidePlayers.com or click on their ad.