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'Alice' a refreshing take on a classic

The rabbit hole may have been in a black box, but the adventures were just as deep in Mill Mountain Theatre Conservatory’s “Alice,” which opened its run of free shows Saturday on Waldron Stage.

The family-friendly adaptation by Anna Kimmell is an abridged — weighing in at about 45 minutes — and contemporary interpretation of Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” that celebrates the classic novel’s 150th anniversary.

“Alice” opens with the character Alice, played by Mikayla Parker, listening to the dreamy chants of swaying trees on a lazy summer day. The trees happen to be actors waving their arms in front of a black and white background, as an unadorned black box theater would dictate, employing the modern dance element of the production.

Confronted with the sudden, manic presence of the White Rabbit (Mary Brothers), Alice quickly finds herself falling down the abyss of a rabbit hole — a hooped net in this case — to that iconic land of the surreal.

The young actors gave the host of classic characters a jolt of energy, most notably Ben Kennedy as the Mouse. Kennedy’s jumps and ramblings got the overwhelming approval of the kid-dominated audience. The riddled, punned banter of the Mad Hatter (Ben Lewis) and the March Hare (C.J. Rodenberg) also delighted kids and parents alike. But from an acting standpoint, what stood out was Kennedy’s Caterpillar, speaking in a smoke-addled English accent of yore and moving his insect arms like hinges.

While traditionally attired in a glazed blue and white dress, Parker’s Alice was the most original part of the adaptation. Kimmell, who also directed and choreographed the production, uses the modern precocity and cheekiness — that parents of adolescent girls will no doubt recognize — to emphasize Alice’s youth and emotional spectrum under the demands of modern kid responsibilities. Parker does a good job of delivering the oft-used monologues and making them entertaining while keeping her innocent persona intact.

The finer, technical details were also successes. Bluegrass banjo riffs playing in the transitions between scenes, the projection of images on the background and the array of sound effects were nice touches to the bare-bones theater.

In all, Kimmell’s interpretation and the young actors’ enthusiasm made for a refreshing take on a classic work and a fulfilling plea to keep dreaming.

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