ASHLAND — Maybe Grace Slick and the Jefferson Airplane were right.
As their 1967 psychedelic era song, “White Rabbit,” written and sung by Slick suggested, “If you go chasing rabbits, And you know you’re going to fall ... Call Alice.”
Likewise, “When logic and proportion have fallen sloppy dead, And the white knight is talking backwards , And the red queen’s off with her head,” does it make any sense at all?
In a sense, “Alice in Wonderland,” playing on the outdoor Allen Elizabethan Theatre, is a dreamlike, nonsensical play, one without a plot or a storyline, just what Lewis Carroll, the author of “Alice in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking Glass,” intended.
Array of characters
Alice’s journey down a rabbit hole is a play that often pulsates and intrigues, but sometimes seems a series of vignettes by the array of human and animal characters from Carroll’s stories — the King of Hearts, White Knight, Dormouse, Humpty Dumpty, Red Queen, March Hare, Cheshire Cat, Mad Hatter. Tweedledee, Tweedledum, Mock Turtle, White Queen and, of course, the White Rabbit.
The play honors Carroll’s whimsical storytelling, using only words from his stories, as Alice navigates a place where “logic and proportion have fallen sloppy dead.” As Alice, however, Emily Ota seems more like a scowling teen than a 7-year-old, a girl given to understandable bouts of temper as she tries — and fails — to comprehend her truly weird journey.
Having much fun are 16 other actors, all of them playing multiple roles. Among those creating fun and confusion is Daniel Parker as the oh-so-sensitive Mock Turtle who, flippers flopping, sings “Beautiful Soup.” Delightful, too, is David Kelly as the cook, Seven of Spades and, most memorably, Humpty Dumpty sitting, naturally, on a wall and waiting to fall. The cast is almost a who’s-who of Festival actors, and all seem to relish the silliness.
Part of the play’s appeal is its staging, with unusual lighting, often laughingly silly costumes, choreography and special effects. Devising how to keep the 17 actors flip-flopping roles and outfits must have required huge amounts of coordination and imagination by Alice’s director, Sara Bruner. There are strobe lights, white balloons, a Cheshire cat with a neon grin, day-glow feathered birds. The second act comes alive and vivid in part because the night sky dominates, allowing several of the effects to become more illuminatingly mysterious. Given the opportunity, wait until later in the season for longer nights and the darkness that brightens the stage.
“Alice in Wonderland” is anything but conventional, a journey in the fantastical. Indeed, when the men on the chessboard get up and tell you where to go, “Go ask Alice, I think she’ll know.”