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“Curiouser and curiouser”

Insanity and goofiness rule in Youtheatre’s production of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

By Michael Summers


Fort Wayne Reader


Tessa Yandell’s favorite line in Youtheatre’s production of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland isn’t even spoken by her character. The Northrop freshman plays Alice, but it’s Jon-Mark Sabel as the Cheshire Cat (Sabel also plays the Knave of Hearts) who gets to utter what Yandell thinks is the best line. “It’s ‘You’re mad. I’m mad. We’re all mad,’” Yandell says. “I just love that line.”

Why that’s her favorite line isn’t hard to guess — it neatly sums up the entire spirit of the play, adapted from Lewis Carroll’s children’s classic about Alice’s trip to the weird world of Wonderland full of Mad Hatters, rabbits with pocket watches, and anthropomorphic playing cards.

The story’s bizarre characters, upside-down logic, and nonsense poems like “The Jabberwocky” and “The Walrus and the Carpenter” have made Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland an audience favorite. But imagining crazy characters isn’t as easy as it looks, and brings its own set of challenges. Joey Adams, who plays one of the card soldiers, says getting into the role of a silly character can be tough. “This is the only play I’ve done where you have to try to be goofy, not realistic,” he says.

“It took me a while to realize (my character) was sassy, because you don’t really know what they’re like when you read it,” adds Olivia Hippensteel, who plays the Mouse.

“Things are so goofed-up in Wonderland, and you have to get the right personality for the character,” says Kasey Connolly as the White Rabbit. “You can’t go too over-the-top.”

Halle Bandt, making her Youtheatre debut as the Caterpillar, agrees. “Just trying to find the right character… It’s not easy thinking ‘hmmm, what would a caterpillar act like?’”

Harvey Cocks, Youtheatre’s Executive Director, said it took a while for the cast to understand the play. “In the beginning it was very difficult for them to imagine what these characters are like,” he says. “I had discussions with them about the book and Lewis Carroll and they started to figure it out.”

The cast aren’t into their costumes as of this writing (“I expect something with lots of padding,” says Jon Bernard of his Tweedle Dee costume), but once that happens, Cocks says, the transformation from young actor to talking flower, or sassy mouse, or dim-witted bird will be complete.

But if some members of the cast are slowly figuring out their characters, other members have embraced the lunacy with gusto. Peter Rumsey says he’s having a ball playing Humpty-Dumpty, and has invested his character with an outrageous British accent. “I get to be very haughty,” he says. “My favorite line is, ‘it’s very pro-vow-king being an egg.’”

Also having a great time is William Dawson as the Mock Turtle. The Mock Turtle is part of a trio — along with the Dodo bird (Keelan Rushing) and the Lory bird (Jack Ankenbruck) — of incredibly dim-witted characters that serve as Wonderland’s equivalent of the Three Stooges. After playing characters like Aslan in Youtheatre’s production of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Dawson welcomes the change. “It’s very contrary to some of the parts I’ve played,” he says. “Those were very uptight, strict characters. Now, I just get to be a stooge. I like doing silly plays much better.”

In fact, Dawson and other members of the cast suggest that the toughest role in the play might be Alice — maintaining the normal center in the midst of all the insanity is a difficult task for an actress. But Charlotte Janovyak, who plays the Red Queen (“I’ve never played a role that shouted so much”) says Tessa Yandell does an excellent job. “She (Yandell) ties everything together really well,” Janovyak says. “She’s consistant throughout the play.”

Fort Wayne Youtheatre presents Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
Saturday, February 18, 2 pm
Sunday, February 19, 2 pm
Arts United Center
303 East Main Street
Tickets on sale starting February 13. Call (260) 422-4226 between noon – 4 pm for tickets.

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