Literature and life, onstage

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Lat night I took in a preview performance of British playwright Christopher Hampton’s Alice’s Adventures Under Ground. The Chicago premiere of this play, which was first presented in 1994 in London, is by City Lit Theater, an organization that specializes in adaptations of literary material for the stage. I attended with some members of my writing group and discussed the script with some of the cast and audience afterward.

City Lit sums up the plot as follows:

Based on the writings of Lewis Carroll and employing Carroll as a character in the play, Hampton's play uses episodes from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There as well as material from Carroll's personal correspondence to explore the relationship between the Oxford mathematics tutor and the little girl who inspired his literary legacy.

The play addresses the modern-day controversy about Carroll’s predilection for befriending little girls and even photographing them nude, although that practice was not unusual during the Victorian era of “the cult of the child.” Apparently parents were always present. From a writing standpoint, I appreciated how Hampton braids scenes of Carroll meeting with the little girl with scenes from the books she inspired. The script segues mid-way to a scene of Carroll reading two emotionally wrought letters he had written to some parents whom he felt mistrusted him, and a monologue in which he speaks of his affection as he observes Alice on the beach. The artistry is in the often surprising flow from re-enactment of real life to the flights of imagination depicted in the books. If you’re able to see the play yourself, be watchful for these transitions, some of which only became clear to me in discussing the play afterward.

The audience last night especially responded to actor Lee Wichman’s song performances and what I am dubbing his “lobster pas de deux” with actor Edward Kuffert. All the performances had charm and warmth. The play continues through October 9.