Syracuse Stage is currently hosting a production from Chicago, however, that resolutely avoids such references and hews -- even when updating some of the characters' presentations for a contemporary audience -- to Alice's story as that of a child who wishes to grow up perhaps too fast for on-looking adults. Writer-director David Catlin, also artistic director of the Lookingglass Theatre Company, says that he wrote the play when his own daughter was two and a half and he already grasped how painfully fleeting her childhood. A sort of anti-Peter Pan, this Alice wants to grow up -- here, become a queen -- faster than is good for her. If she learns anything in her efforts to navigate growing up -- here, framed as a series of chess moves -- it's that "all rule and no play" makes a poor queen.
"Lookingglass Alice" is also part of a larger approach to theater that develops stage material with circus-style tumbling, mime, clown gags and acrobatics as well as an extensive theater education program in Chicago's public schools. Catlin's Lookingglass Theatre Company dates back to 1988. Its partner company, the Actors Gymnasium Circus and Performing Arts School -- which shares some principal players and is dedicated to "bringing a new physicality to American theater" -- dates to 1995. In this mold, "Lookingglass Alice" premiered in 2005 and has had some 300 performances nationwide.
Notably, this is a difficult and costly production that required Syracuse Stage to begin preparing the building itself some eleven months ago, construct a special aluminum truss to bear the scaffolding for the lighting and aerial acrobatics, and remove several rows of seats to allow the stage to jut further into the house. That said, prepare yourself for trapeze flying and aerial rope-work, the Red Queen on stilts some of the time and on spring shoes the rest, a White Queen who grows progressively and comically younger, and a white-tuxedoed Humpty-Dumpty whose ladder provides the second-best gasp of the show. (The first best is the collapse of the looking glass over the sitting room fireplace itself, a nicely executed conceit that -- even though we know it's coming because the ads tell us there's on-stage seating -- reveals another audience in perhaps another theater on the other side.)