This past Saturday, I was lucky enough to make it to the Bolton Theater to catch the closing night of Alice In…, a staged adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s classic novel Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland written and directed by Associate Professor of Drama Anton Dudley. Because it was Family Weekend, the house was packed full of students and their loved ones. Everywhere I looked there were friends being introduced, parents shaking hands and people hugging. Even the music playing contributed to my elevated mood — I took my seat to a cover of “Uptown Funk” inspired by medieval music.
When the lights eventually dimmed and the crowd hushed, I took a good look at the set for the first time. A painted black-and-white checkerboard covered half of the stage’s floor while the other half was a melting, abstracted version of the same pattern. Half a dozen door frames, also painted black and white, flanked a fireplace that sat upstage. Ensemble members entered the stage during this blackout and took their places standing in the doorways, facing away from the audience. The only props onstage at this point were a few playing cards and a toy rabbit. Alice (Chace Correll ’26) played with these toys as the lights came up and the production began.
What followed was an hour and a half of surreal visuals and difficult-to-follow plotlines. Most people, including myself, are familiar with the story of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland in some form or another. It’s most known for its whimsy and absurdity, but despite this, it is relatively easy to follow. It’s silly, of course, but its themes are clear and it wraps up neatly. Alice In…, on the other hand, was perplexing. I’ve read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and seen several film adaptations, so I could tell what was happening most of the time because I already knew so much about the world and its characters. One of my companions, however, had neither read nor seen any Alice content, and he was lost almost the entire time. On some level, I think the play should be confusing, but I don’t think it should be indecipherable.
The main reason I think Alice In… fell short is its lack of narrative cohesion. While the original novel is all about curiosity and the ever-changing nature of childhood, Alice In… began with Alice wishing for “something to love.” If I had to guess, I’d say she wished for this because she was lonely and her parents never had time for her, but the play did not make this explicitly clear. After Alice stated her motivation in the first scene, I was on the lookout for how this would change the story overall. “Love” isn’t a theme in the original novel at all, so I assumed it would drastically alter the plot. It did not. Instead, the first half of the play more or less followed the same arc as the original novel with the addition of some dance and song.
Toward the end of the play, a different message emerged: Growing up is hard, but you’ll be fine. Pretty quickly, everything became very emotional. Although the first half of the play failed to engage me, I’ll admit that the Mock Turtle’s (Owen Wills ’27) conversation with Alice about adults “uglifying” everything made me tear up a bit. Not long after this moment, the play diverged majorly from the original text. Suddenly, the Jabberwocky (Reily Scott ’26) appeared and the citizens of Wonderland begged Alice to kill it. The Jabberwocky is actually not mentioned at all in the original novel, but in its sequel Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There. Alice realizes that she isn’t afraid of the Jabberwocky at all and that it’s only a manifestation of her own fear of growing up. Armed with this knowledge, she defeats the Jabberwocky and returns home soon after. Back in reality, Alice’s parents approach her with a gift: her own pet rabbit. They give her a booklet on how to care for it and quip that they wish someone had given them a booklet like that when they had Alice. The play ends with Alice holding the rabbit and saying “Something to love.”
I had a few main issues with this play, several of which I’ve touched on already. I think the themes of love and growing up weren’t carried through the entire story as well as they could have been. I also think the musical numbers were lackluster and never served to advance the plot. The cast only sang a few songs, and the transitions and interludes all used the same pre-recorded song. The pacing was also off. The first three-quarters of the play lagged and the conclusion was rushed.
In spite of all of these issues, I enjoyed the experience of watching Alice In… First and foremost, the performances were incredible. I might not have been very happy with the material the actors were given, but they did the absolute most they could with it. Correll was endlessly charming as Alice and perfectly cast in the role. All of the other cast members played their parts well too. Katie Genzer ’25 was wonderful as the sultry Queen of Hearts, Sofiia Shyroka ’25 brought just the right amount of frantic energy to the Rabbit and Scott did the beloved Cheshire Cat justice with his aloof performance. Everything else about the show was great too. The ensemble worked together seamlessly, obviously having built strong relationships with one another. The Production Stage Manager, Grace Donnelly ’25, wrote in an email to the Collegian: “This was such a cohesive, tight-knit group… The trust was there every moment.” The set design was both visually stunning and clever — I loved the moment when Alice’s sea of tears was “drained” through a hole in the stage. The costumes especially really impressed me: They were beautiful pieces of art that fit each character to a T.
Overall, Alice In… was a testament to the huge amount of student talent at Kenyon. It’s just a bit disappointing that it wasn’t in service of a better-written play.