There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.
Impressively high on style, if occasionally a little lacking in clarity, Spooky Action Theater’s Alice in Wonderland whips through the familiar down-the-rabbit-hole yarn with the bit in its teeth and the sense that something’s not quite right wit’ dat guy in da waistcoat. Yup, we’re in Dodgson-as-possible-pedophile territory here, to judge from some of the ominous interactions Alice (a decidedly nubile Yasmin Tuazon, anything but innocent in a push-up dirndl thingy) has with the various male characters down under. Sexual overtones are ultimately a side issue, though, in what’s chiefly an exercise in exuberant physical-theater experimentation: Taking off from Andre Gregory’s 1970 adaptation with the Manhattan Project, Spooky Action’s ensemble throws itself boldly into the business of inventing a physical Wonderland, serving up an energetic and inventive 90-minute show in which actors’ bodies become everything from toadstools to head-shop caterpillars, in which even a plunge through a magical portal can be conjured by a lighting effect and a bunch of committed players on the move. Not everything works as beautifully as that creepy-hypnotic lepidopteran, and director Richard Henrich has trouble imposing shape and sustaining momentum across what are essentially selected snippets of the Alice narratives. But it’s funny, in ways irreverently high (the cast, singing lustily, deploys a snippet of Verdi’s “Anvil Chorus” to underscore a head-banging bit involving a baby doll, which is so wrong it’s right) and unapologetically low (there’s a well-timed burp after one of Alice’s potion-drinking binges, and I’m pretty sure that’s the “Imperial March” from Star Wars when the Queen of Hearts comes stomping in). It’s sure as hell a feast for the senses: Lynly Saunders outfits the Spooky Action forces in a kind of rag-box haute couture, and Kaitlin Eckenroth’s set (a parachute-topped, door-lined space walled in on one side with a newspaper scrim), lit eloquently by Ayun Fedorcha, gets my vote for Most Atmospheric on a Budget so far this year. And never mind the Manhattan Project’s mashup of tropes from Jabberwocky and other Lewis Caroll bits: The thoroughly uninhibited troupe—Joel Ganz, Jessica Hansen, Marissa Molnar, Joseph Perna, and Francisco Reinosa, in addition to Tuazon—makes a fine case for the argument that there’s a lot more to theater than words.