Volume 20, Number 52 | THE NEWSPAPER OF LOWER MANHATTAN | MAY 9 - 15, 2008

Winsome take on a children’s classic

ALICE IN WONDERLAND
The New Acting Company
A program of the Children’s Aid Society
Through May 25
Fri. at 7 p.m., Sat. and Sun. at 3 & 7 p.m.
$16 in advance, $20 at the door
Philip Coltoff Center
219 Sullivan St.
(212-868-4444, smarttix.com)

 

Courtesy of the New Acting Company

Zoe Frazer as Alice, Theo Klein as the Spade, and Maxine Dannatt as the Queen of Hearts

By Talia Page

The New Acting Company, a program for The Children’s Aid Society, features new talent and a fresh take on the old classic, “Alice in Wonderland.” For children, the play provides a colorful and cozy introduction to literature in the theater, and parents will no doubt find themselves amused, and carried away by moments of nostalgia.

“I have loved the story [Alice in Wonderland] since I was a child, but what really intrigued me about Lewis Carroll was his use of nonsense words and how each scene could be interpreted in numerous ways,” said Stephen Rondel, Artistic Director and Founder of the New Acting Company. “The young actors have a lot of fun thinking of ways to memorize the nonsensical lines, and this also gives them more leeway with regards to how they express themselves—there is a lot of gray area in the meaning that gives them plenty of room for interpretation. As Tweedledee, Théo Klein especially had fun with the line ‘Contrariwise, if it was so, it might be, and if it were so, it would be, but as it isn’t, it ain’t. That’s logic!’” As the Cheshire Cat, Charlotte Williams deftly and hilariously combined mewing and dialogue from her perch high in the branches.

The nonsensical play throws both logic and tradition to the wind: don’t expect to see the usual Alice in this production. The adaptation by Brainerd Duffield features a modern, saucy, iPod-wearing Alice who sternly lectures her cat and grooves to the beat of everything from Rihanna to the B-52’s. There’s something for every age in this Wonderland, which defies the elementary expectations one might have for a play featuring young actors, some of whom are still in their single digits. But these talented, competent youngsters seemed to live and breathe their characters, staying fully immersed in their roles.

“In order to memorize my lines, I try to make each one memorable to myself with an action, “ said Ellen B. Swanson, who played a fantastically nutty March Hare.

“I have been teaching most of the children in this performance for the past eight years (since the New Acting Company was formed). It is amazing to see a child grow into their craft and blossom as an individual in today’s society. I chose to have our best students work with professional adults once a year in a legitimate theatrical experience in order to provide the most accurate representation of today’s professional theater. Students get an opportunity to work with top-notch theater professionals: costume designers, lights, sound, set, stage managers, choreographers and directors. It’s an experience I feel is often lacking in today’s children’s theater. I don’t like to direct your typical children’s theater. We are children’s theater redefined,” explained Rondel.

Indeed, the concept of a professional children’s theater may not sound feasible to many, but perhaps that’s why Rondel chose “Alice in Wonderland.” After all, his favorite moment in the play is when the Queen says to Alice, “When I was your age, I believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

His students have intensive practices: five to seven hours a day, six days a week, and it really pays off: “Alice in Wonderland” is a success both from the point of view of the audience, and the actors. The young actors appear to appreciate playing characters quite different from themselves. Ellen Swanson loves her role as the crazy March Hare since she is normally a quiet person who keeps to herself: “It’s fun to be the March Hare—I broke down my ‘quiet’ barrier.” The electric Maxine Dannatt, portraying the Queen of Hearts, agreed. “I looove being mean,” Dannatt explained, with a twinkle in her eye. Her whooshing in and out garbed as a large playing card energized and terrorized the whole set.

Expect to see these kids on Broadway someday. Juliette Crellin, who plays the White Rabbit, explained that acting is tedious and hard—but the troupe has a good work ethic, and they all believe it’s worth the effort. Of course, working hard means playing hard at the Children’s Theater, and it’s clear that the actors enjoy themselves at least as much as the audience does.

All in all, the play is highly recommended…and if you don’t like it, in the words of the Queen, “Off with your head!”

 





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