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Fantasy worlds collide in Fort Wayne Youtheatre’s "Dorothy Meets Alice"
By Michael Summers
Fort Wayne Reader
Pity poor Judson, the young hero of "Dorothy Meets Alice, or the Wizard of Wonderland." As if dealing with one bizarre world isn’t headache enough, he has to deal with two. Judson’s book report is due in the morning, but with Alice In Wonderland open on his lap and The Wizard of Oz playing on the TV, he falls asleep and wakes up in a weird world somewhere between the two fantasy lands. All the favorite characters are there — the sleepy Dormouse (Zelda Miller), the Mad Hatter, Dorothy (Sarah Whitworth), Alice — but everything is mixed up, and Judson (James Harry) must sort out the two stories and get these characters to their proper place, all while avoiding the machinations of the Wicked Witch and the Red Queen.
That’s the plot of Jason Robinette’s Dorothy Meets Alice, or the Wizard in Wonderland, which has its Fort Wayne Youtheatre debut on February 17 and 18. But the bare bones plot doesn’t begin to cover the lunacy that goes on in the hilarious, fast-paced story. It’s the kind of play where the Mad Hatter (Billy Dawson) fires off one-liners like “Why is a king always short? Because rulers are only 12 inches!”, and greets the Tin Man (Tony Schafer) with “have you been feeling a little… rusty lately?” It’s the kind of play where the evil Red Queen and the Wicked Witch join forces after discovering they used to be pen pals.
“These aren’t true-to-life characters at all,” says Youtheatre Director Harvey Cocks. “They’re kind of wacky. They’re almost out of a mental institution.”
Youtheatre has certainly tackled Alice In Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz, and similar stories before. But Dorothy Meets Alice… is a different kind of crazy, one that presents special challenges to the cast of young actors. “It’s almost like stand-up,” Cocks says. “It’s very fast-paced. These are bigger than life characters. There’s a lot of running around and slapstick comedy and falling down… a lot of corny stuff in this play.”
“This play goes like snap snap snap line after line,” says Tre Moeckle (the Cowardly Lion), snapping his fingers for emphasis. “It’s really quick.”
James Harry, who plays Judson, agrees. “It’s got to go like clockwork,” he explains. “There’s a flow to it that’s different than just saying lines. You’ve really got to be on your game.”
Slapstick, pratfalls, corny jokes… it might not sound like foreign territory to younger people; goofing around seems second nature to kids. But Cocks says the notion of kids as natural show people is not quite true, and it took a while for the cast to get in to the idea of playing their roles really big. “Kids today are very, very cool,” he says. “But in this kind of comedy, they have to… make a spectacle of themselves. And it’s very hard for any of us to make fools of ourselves.”
Cocks describes the play as vaudeville, and says the corny jokes and sight gags are reminiscent of older comedy. Judy Whitney, who plays the Red Queen (she gets to utter the line “Head henchman, hand me my handy dandy head-hacking hicky”) and is one of two adults in the play, has a different take on it. “I think of it more as Laugh-In than vaudeville,” she says.
Still, how do you explain Jack Benny or the Three Stooges or Laugh-In to a cast who, for the most part, are probably too young to stay up for Saturday Night Live? “I say ‘vaudeville,’ and they just look at me. They don’t know what in the world I’m talking about,” Cocks says, laughing. “But I use the example of ‘Who’s On First?’ They all know that from somewhere.”
However he explains it, the cast seems to relish the chance to adopt goofy accents and act crazy. Billy Dawson says playing the Mad Hatter, with his high-pitched voice, British accent and fondness for laughing at his own (bad) jokes, is much more fun than the straight-laced characters like Aslan and Father Wolf (Jungle Book). “Those were serious, fatherly type roles. It’s just fun to let loose and be crazy.”
Olivia Hippensteel (the White Rabbit) and Lindsey Lehman (Alice) were two cast members who also had to put on a British accent. “I watched a bunch of movies with people with British accents,” says Hippensteel, citing My Fair Lady and The Chronicles of Narnia. Lehman took her inspiration from another popular children’s character. “I watched Harry Potter to listen to Hermione’s voice,” she says.
Tre Moeckel as the Cowardly Lion had to take on a different kind of voice. “I have to speak in a tough guy accent,” he says. “I try to talk like one of the guys in The Godfather.”
But the overall operating word seems to be “fast.” Even Zelda Miller, whose character the Dormouse often falls asleep, says Dorothy Meets Alice moves at a very quick, exciting pace. John Mark Sabel (the Scarecrow) agrees, saying no one in the audience is going to be looking at their watch. “The jokes come fast and furious,” he says. “Some people might not be able to keep up. But there’s lots of slapstick humor for the younger kids, and the older kids will get the puns and the references.”
Fort Wayne Youtheatre presents Dorothy meets Alice
Saturday, February17, 2 pm
Sunday, February 18, 2 pm
Arts United Center
303 East Main Street
Tickets on sale starting February 12. Call (260) 422-4226 between noon – 4 pm for tickets.