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Alice, TUTA, at Chicago Dramatists. Stephen Angus and Zeljko Djukic must have taken a wrong turn somewhere on the road to Wonderland. Their adaptation of the Alice novels envisions Lewis Carroll’s young protagonist as a budding actress whose encounters with a group of Method actors speed her toward an artistic awakening. As mapped out in an excerpt from the adapters’ correspondence, reprinted in a program note, that’s a reasonably rational explanation for everything that happens after Alice follows the “eat me, drink me” directions.
On a purely visceral level, this interpretation works: Tanja and Stjepan Ros’s bare-bones set heightens the starkness of the black-box space, and Natasa Djukic’s gorgeous Kabuki-meets-the-Gap costumes reflect the conceptual stylization. But look beneath the eye-popping visuals and theatrical sleight of hand and you see that the script unfolds at cross-purposes. Attempts to hide the play’s seams with blackouts don’t mesh with the intent to create a Pirandellian metareality (in one scene, Alice watches curiously while a stagehand sets up Humpty Dumpty’s ladder).
As director, Djukic supplies some mind-bending stage pictures–the tea party scene is presented from “overhead,” with the table upended. But languid pacing and dismal lighting essentially trap the audience in a sensory-deprivation tank. And the adapters’ overzealous paring of their source reduces Carroll’s most inspired creations to a set of talking heads; only Bob Kulhan in a whacked-out take on the White Rabbit gets some good raw material. Wonderland used to be a whimsical place. Alice doesn’t live there anymore.