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'Alice in Wonderland' opens at Theatre Convivio

“Alice in Wonderland,” Lewis Carroll’s enchanting tale of a young girl caught in a topsy-turvy alternative world, has entertained both children and adults for 150 years. It has captured the imagination as a book and as adaptations for film and stage.

Now, Theatre Convivio brings Alice and her adventures in Wonderland to the stage in Ashland in a new adaptation by local playwright Evalyn Hansen directed by Theatre Convivio founder Richard Heller. It is filled with all the upended logic, the intricate word play and the puns and malapropisms of the original story.

“I went back to the pure story,” says Hansen. “The tale of Alice’s adventures started as a fairy tale told to three young children on a Sunday afternoon. I’ve kept that sense of spontaneity and wonder.”

“Alice in Wonderland” plays at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Sunday, Nov. 20-23; Friday and Saturday, Nov. 28-29; and Thursday through Saturday, Dec. 4-6, at the Bellview Grange, 1050 Tolman Creek Road, Ashland. Matinees are at 2 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 22, Nov. 29 and Dec. 6, and Sunday, Nov. 30. Tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for children and can be purchased at Music Coop, 268 E. Main St., Ashland, online at www.theatreconvivio.com or at the door.

The Theatre Convivio production has a cast of 11 actors, including four children, equity actors and local players, portraying all of the story’s familiar characters, including the White Rabbit, the Mad Hatter, the March Hare, the Queen of Hearts and the Cheshire Cat.

Heller promises a “fairy-tale-style” set and fanciful costumes true to the period.

“This is very old-school stagecraft,” Heller says. “We’re using old-fashioned canvas backdrops and a turntable for scenery changes.”

Gabriel Ash designed the set. The production will also have original music created by Heller and composer Beth Martin.

“Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” started out as a story told while Oxford mathematics professor Charles Dodgson was on a rowing outing in July 1862 with a colleague, the Rev. Robinson Duckworth, and the three young daughters of another friend. At the urging of the children, Dodgson wrote the story down, titled it “Alice’s Adventures Under Ground” and presented it to them as a hand-written manuscript with his own illustrations as a Christmas gift. The response was so enthusiastic that Dodgson — under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll — subsequently published it as “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” with illustrations by John Tenniel, in 1865.

Hansen created this adaptation of “Alice in Wonderland” after she fashioned an actor’s workshop using Carroll’s characters for the English as a Second Language class she teaches at Rogue Community College.

“I got so involved with the characters that I sort of just went down the rabbit hole with the whole story.” Hansen says.

She brought her adaptation to Heller, who was also fascinated by the “Alice in Wonderland” story. He says it was just the kind of material he wanted for Theatre Convivio and for the Bellview Grange, its host stage.

Hansen is a regular contributor to the Ashland Daily Tidings and active in the local theater scene, having directed for Ashland Contemporary Theatre. Heller has 30 years of experience as an actor, writer and director in community theater, including Rogue Music Theatre, Oregon Stage Works and Camelot Theatre.

Roberta Kent is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach her at rbkent@mind.net.

McKenzie Baratta plays Alice and Raymond Scully the Cheshire Cat in 'Alice in Wonderland,' opening Nov. 20 at Theatre Convivio. Photo courtesy Leanne Zinkand
Victoria Simone Stewart, left, plays the Gryphon and Becky Durango the Mock Turtle in 'Alice in Wonderland' at Theatre Convivio. Photo courtesy Leanne Zinkand