They could have taken the easy route. They could have chosen a classic American play, a beloved comedy of manners or a Shakespearean drama. They could have polished any number of existing scripts for a glittering farewell to Durango High School.
Instead, Mona Wood-Patterson and Charles Ford chose a more difficult path, labor intensive and creatively complex.
Alice in Wonderland, the final production in their long career at the high school, is a series of 15 scenes inspired by the Lewis Carroll story. Wood-Pattersons studio production class developed the scene sequence. As each part took shape, Wood-Patterson scripted the pieces into a whole. Along the way, the collaboration continued and involved Fords own evolutionary process of set design and puppetry.
The third part of the creative team, costume designer JoAnn Nevils, stretched the groups imagination further. Mixing conventional costuming with contemporary flair, Nevils has underscored the basic concept of Alices adventures as a psychedelic 60s dream. In her inimitable style, Nevils has freely cross pollinated by adding Goth and punk touches, a wig here, studded jeans there, and a sequined shirt or two. As a result, this final production for the Wood-Patterson team pushes fantasy toward its brillig slithy toves.
With what seems like a cast of thousands, Alice in Wonderland begins quite simply.
The first scene, All in a Golden Afternoon, shows three ordinary American students in a classroom. Theyre bored. They text each other while their teacher drones on about Lewis Carroll. Pretty soon, Alice (wonderfully played by Naomi Rodri) falls asleep then awakens as the Alice of the inner story. Her adventures take her to Wonderland. She encounters a giant caterpillar, enchanted talking flowers and a Cheshire Cat, fully animated in an unexpected film sequence. She has tea with the Mad Hatter (colorfully caricatured by a literally larger than life Dallas Padoven). The party soon turns into mayhem at the mention of the Queen of Hearts. Beth Thomas makes the most of her wicked character, bellowing Off with his/her head at the drop of a name.
Mayhem erupts several times during the performance, which brings up the only flaw in the production. While appropriate to the story, scenes of chaos and confusion tend to go beyond their dramatic point. That said, there is much to praise and little to critique in this outrageous fantasy. It helps to know the story, so if youre taking young ones, be sure they have an acquaintance with Lewis Carrolls original.
Conor Sheehan deserves special mention for the innumerable dramatic and musical roles he plays. In the one substantial musical number, an ensemble piece called Looking-Glass Chess, Sheehan plays the music he composed for Wood-Pattersons lyrics. Sheehan also appears as the professor, a variety of roles including one of the Queens cards and is the voice of the Cheshire Cat.
Fords puppets deserve special mention, too. Just when you think the Caterpillar will remain an off-stage voice to an inquiring Alice, a giant puppet emerges. The Caterpillar runs on eight pairs of red tennis shoes, actors tucked inside his cavernous body. One can only imagine the inner workings of the Jaberwock and the huge Robot that Alice slays in her heroic triumph toward the end.
As the fantasy concludes, Alice awakens back in her classroom, honoring Wood-Pattersons frame device and bringing the work to a gratifying conclusion.
The show is performed without intermission and runs about 80 minutes.
What a great way to say farewell.