Lookingglass Theatre Company Stages Bravura, Out-of-This-World Revival of Its Classic ‘Lookingglass Alice’

Lindsey Noel Whiting as Alice in the Lookingglass production of “Lookingglass Alice.” (Credit: Liz Lauren)Lindsey Noel Whiting as Alice in the Lookingglass production of “Lookingglass Alice.” (Credit: Liz Lauren)

Phenomenal. Breathtaking. Wildly imaginative. A figuratively (but close to literally) out-of-this- world production.

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And that does not even come close to capturing the absolutely brilliant (and at moments terrifying) production of “Lookingglass Alice,” the namesake show of Lookingglass Theatre that has had a half-dozen reincarnations since it first arrived on a Chicago stage in 1988. It has now been thrillingly revised and remounted on the company’s uniquely rigged stage in the Water Tower Water Works Building on Michigan Avenue.

Ingeniously adapted and directed by David Catlin (in association with The Actors Gymnasium), with spectacular circus and movement design by Sylvia Hernandez-Stasi, this action-packed 90-minute show features an altogether dazzling, multi-talented cast. Leading the way is Lindsey Noel Whiting (truly “the girl on a flying trapeze”) as Alice. Joining here are Adeoye as the mischievous and muscular Cheshire Cat, Michael Rodriguez Cintra as the wild and wacky White Rabbit, Kareem Bandealy as the impossibly arrogant Red Queen, and Samuel Taylor as both the daredevil White Knight and brainy Charles Dodgson, the famous Victorian era writer (and mathematician) best known by his pen name, Lewis Carroll.

Still generating well-deserved applause is a surprise opening scene that I will not divulge aside from reminding you that this story is all about Alice moving to the other side of a mirror and becoming enmeshed in a wildly surreal, alternately bizarre and brainy dream that loosely plays off the rules of a chess game and notions of time and space. The story leads the 7-year-old Alice on a long, mentally and physically upending experience that somehow results in her being dubbed a queen.

Along the way there is extraordinary acting, many comic riffs, daring acrobatic feats (without a net) and pure physical magic generated by nail-biting moments of physical terror that complement the show’s many mental acrobatics. There is the maddest of all mad tea parties imaginable, and surprises that take place in the air as well as from the underground (including a rhythmic, almost balletic explosion of 16 folding chairs that is an exercise in extreme coordination executed to perfection). And there is the goofy interplay of the twins Tweedledum and Tweedeldee, several wild and crazy unicycle rides, a storm of shoes, a jabbering of both sense and nonsense and more.

Adeoye and Michael Rodriguez Cintra perform in the Lookingglass production of “Lookingglass Alice.” (Credit: Liz Lauren)Adeoye and Michael Rodriguez Cintra perform in the Lookingglass production of “Lookingglass Alice.” (Credit: Liz Lauren)

The show’s endless array of stunts demand altogether extraordinary acting, dancing, balancing, and eye-popping (at times nerve-jangling) acrobatic and gymnastic feats by this cast. At the same time, there is great braininess and wordplay, and a true realization of what Lewis Carroll imagined in this enduring work that considers the nature of existence and consciousness, the phenomenon of time and direction, the power of dreams, the playing of power games, the wisdom of riddles and the mechanics of the human engine we call the imagination. In many ways, Carroll’s storytelling was “meta” before its time.

The sheer energy, skill and daring required of the cast is stunning. And while every performance is ideal, and ideally quirky, it is Whiting’s astonishing portrayal of Alice that continually bedazzles. A petite figure of gargantuan strength and nerves of steel, Whiting’s airborne routines on a circular trapeze are stunning, and put the audience in a state of total emotional suspension.

Be amazed, too, as she balances an actor (who probably weighs at least twice as much as she does) on her back. On top of it all, she brings a wonderful sense of confusion and determination to her portrayal of Alice. She is simply small but mighty at every turn. (And note: Throughout the run of the show Molly Hernandez will be alternating with Whiting in the role of Alice.)

On every level this is a highly designed show, with Daniel Ostling’s set, Christine A. Binder’s lighting, Lee Brasuell’s rock solid (but chilling) rigging design, Mara Blumenfeld’s fantastical costumes and the music of Andre Pluess and Ben Collins-Sussman adding to its magic. Also deserving a cheer is the show’s team of stagehands that sees to it that every member of the cast makes a safe entrance and exit from the stage.

Alas, if only Lewis Carroll could see this show. But maybe he is watching from somewhere in another dimension — through a looking-glass.

“Lookingglass Alice” runs through July 31 at the Lookingglass Theatre, 821 N. Michigan Ave. For tickets visit lookingglasstheatre.org or phone 312-337-0665.

Follow Hedy Weiss on Twitter: @HedyWeissCritic

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