Inventive Alice 

It merits editing, but rotating roles and creative twists keep Ragged Wing's Wonderland fresh.

There's a lot going on in Ragged Wing Ensemble's Alice in Wonderland. Using Andre Gregory and the Manhattan Project's adaptation in the old downtown Oakland YWCA, Amy Sass' staging has moments that work beautifully and others that fall flat, but there's a marvelous physicality and general air of play and experimentation to the piece that more than offsets some of its clumsier moments. If it occasionally feels like a school play, better that it happen with the Lewis Carroll children's classic than, say, Ibsen.

At first it looks worrisome, with Keith Cory Davis taking an Alice puppet out of a suitcase and beginning his narration, making exaggerated oh-my-heavens-what's-happening faces when a disembodied voice speaks along with him. Then the ensemble cast of ten enters reciting "Jabberwocky" over and over, by turns in unison and in rounds, finishing with a rap version that repeats the word "galumphing" to the tune of "My Humps." It's cute and all, but if they're going to run through every part four times it's going to be a long night.

Happily, that's not what happens at all. Instead a stream of tag-team Alices reel haplessly from one fantastical encounter to the next, with a new actor taking on her dress and blond wig for each scene. Each of the ten gets to play Alice at some point, sometimes several at once, and even an impressive two-story puppet gets into the act. The stripped-down staging has no set to speak of and an ensemble cast (including several teen performers) in matching white shirts, black pants, and red-and-white striped socks accented by character accoutrements as appropriate.

Davis proves an unusually touching, desperate Mad Hatter, and Jennifer Antonacci is a deliciously imperious Duchess and particularly coquettish Alice, if a so-so March Hare. Anna Schneiderman tries too hard to be funny as the Caterpillar and Humpty Dumpty, but Emily Morrison makes a marvelously girly Alice and a captivating Cheshire Cat, and David Stein is amusing as the Red Queen, but especially as a weirdo crab.

The end gets bogged down with tacked-on bits of Through the Looking-Glass. A slapstick duo of White Knights by way of Tweedledee and Tweedledum (Davis and Jeffrey Hoffman) is quite funny, but their song, and the philosophical musings of Humpty Dumpty and the White Queen, drag on too long. It's a madcap ride, even if it wants trimming.

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