Here are eight reasons to catch Merely Players’ “Zoom Alice: A Wonderland Adventure for a Topsy Turvy World” before it disappears online by the end of Saturday, June 20.
1. A tight, contemporary adaptation of an old, familiar story.
2. A jazzy, up-to-date video recording.
3. Suspenseful original music.
4. Puppets that fly or fall off walls.
5. Colorful costumes and bristly wigs.
6. A cast of thousands.
7. A leading lady who is as bewildered as we all are in our unsettled times.
8. And like pepper spray on peaceful protesters, two dozen coronavirus references that Director and Writer Mona Wood-Paterson has seamlessly embedded just to see if you are paying attention.
Merely Players has jumped ferociously into the new COVID-19 world of contemporary theater. Wood-Patterson took a leap and whistled her gleefully company to follow. Consequently, director, cast and crew have put together an innovative retelling of the “Alice in Wonderland” story.
Wood-Patterson’s adaptation calls for 21 characters. That’s plenty for a 45-minute production. She ended up with 38 eager players and accommodated them all by adding flowers and cards that speak. It could have been confusing pop-up heads with one line apiece. Instead, Wood-Patterson’s tight script is clear and concise. She starts and ends with an framing device that sets up the rabbit-hole story and holds all the moving parts together.
After zippy, floating credits, a contemporary Alice (Erika Vetter) sits by a dreary window playing solitaire. She’s in quarantine. She picks up a few medical masks, falls asleep ... and then, dreaming, spirals down to Wonderland.
It’s at that moment that Director of Photography Adam Fontana moves into high technical gear. He spins characters, props and backgrounds into today’s version of the world gone mad. It’s a technical triumph, especially because all 38 actors were responsible for their own costume, makeup, memorizing and filming their part.
Fontana stitched the pieces together like a master quilter. Only rarely does he use a static Zoom-grid. Instead, he slides, rolls or tumbles characters into scenes. He tosses them about or scrambles when appropriate.
Charles Ford’s puppets appear and disappear. Anthony Kingsley’s original music humorously mixes menace with playfulness. And above all, Fontana’s dazzling array of film tricks moves the story along at a bubbly pace.
Very few glitches interrupt the momentum. A few bits don’t quite jell. But on the whole, the Players have experimented with a new genre, a hybrid, and climbed out of the rabbit hole with a winning production.
Two weeks ago, The Silverton Mine Theatre mounted another version of the Alice Story. Put together in a hurry, the Mollie Mook-Fiddler adaptation felt like an energetic rehearsal. Actors read from scripts and the Zoom-grid format held for much of the reading. Director Delena Britnell marshalled actors from various states, and time-delays caused awkward pauses. But, TMM mounted its fledgling new plays festival through Memorial Weekend and are still in the game. It’s probably where many companies are now.
You have a short window to see the Merely Players’ production and ticket prices start at $5. As soon as you pay for your ticket, the play begins. Curtain up.
Judith Reynolds is an arts journalist and member of the American Theatre Critics Association.