Credit: Handout photo by Johnny Shryock

Perhaps the most puzzling entry in theWomen’s Voices Theater Festival is Synetic Theater’s weirdly muted new iteration of Alice in Wonderland. Yes, this new gloss on Lewis Carroll’s oft-adapted 150-year-old novel is by a woman—Lloyd Rose, the author of several Dr. Who novels and a former theater and film critic for the Washington Post. But nothing about Rose’s interpretation—which refashions the tale as a battle of wills between plucky Alice (Kathy Gordon) and her severe new governess (Renata Vebertye Loman), who wants to throw away all her plush toys—feels revelatory or even distinct, the way Synetic’s less faithful, more intriguing The Island of Dr. Moreau was at this time last year.

While that show, like many Synetic offerings, was clearly aimed at adults, it’s hard to tell who this Alice is for: Company co-founder Irina Tsikurishvili’s choreography is less suggestive (and less thrillingly athletic) than usual, but the 95-minute, no-intermission performance is probably too frightening for very young children. Grownups, meanwhile, will likely be bored to tears. (Not the glowing blue LED tears Alice cries when her legs extend to stilt-like dimensions, in one of a few memorable moments of visual poetry.) Or maybe it was just the hard-working smoke machine that kept me bleary-eyed.

Carroll’s surreal imagery and characters would seem to give the design team plenty of fertile material, and he fits Synetic’s usual M.O.: Take a writer whose reputation rests heavily or wholly on verse and wordplay, then redact (most of) the words. There’s a neat plot device here, wherein Alice’s toys spring to life in the form of the familiar characters, most notably Alex Mills’ impish Cheshire Cat. Loman reappears as the Queen of Hearts, predictably, and the Lithuanian actress’ awkward line readings—a giveaway square in any game of Synetic Theater Bingo—contribute to her air of menace.

But even among the elements that sort of work, there’s no alchemy. Daniel Pinha’s set design repurposes the same steel-tubing jungle gym familiar from other Synetic shows, and Kendra Rai’s vaguely punk-inspired costumes—lots of shredded leather, and matching red mohawks on Tweedledee and Tweedledum (who come not from Alice, but from its sequel, Through the Looking Glass, people)—try to gin up a bit of provocation. It plays like a collection of outtakes from Synetic’s triumphs. Even resident composer Konstantine Lortkipanidze’s score is more grating than whimsical or unsettling. One pill makes you larger and one pill makes you small, to cite another lady-penned rewrite of Alice. But this one is like the pill that mother gives you: It doesn’t do much of anything at all.

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