One of my favorite things about attending play at Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati is the intimate setting. It gives you a sense of being at home. It’s warm, cozy and there isn’t a bad seat in the house. The “Alice in Wonderland” decorations around the lobby are not only cute, but bring a holiday feel using pearly whites and deep reds. Sitting down and looking the set, I imagined being a kid again. The checkered floor, red and white walls and ladders convey a sense of familiarity. Of course, we all know the story of Alice, but this space gives you the feeling of reminiscing when you first read or watched the story.
This Alice, played by Deej Ragusa, trades in the old blue and white tulle dress for a blue and white jumper. She’s a normal teenage girl who thinks she knows it all. She argues with her mom and may have a slight kleptomania problem. Alice stumbles down the stairs into Wonderland and a journey of finding her true self.
The first song, “Falling,” speaks about the growing pains of teens. Alice says she is growing older and bolder but feels like she has lost her footing and is falling. Even though most of the audience was at least three times the age of a teen, we all have felt that way at some point in our life.
Alice, not knowing exactly where she is, listens to the music around her as it urges her to drink a special potion. The potions make her first large and then small. How the set changes sizes is the funniest. It reminds me of a quick game of hide and seek. Finally, with the help of the music and a few friends, she makes it back to regular size.
She continues to make her way through Wonderland, meeting characters like Tweedledee and Tweedledum. They sing and dance and clap and laugh and turn any frown upside down. They urge the audience to say their names with them as they sing. Imagine adults in harmony singing Tweedledum-Tweedledee-Tweedledee-Tweedledum. It may not give you the chills of an opera singer, but it definitely gives you all sorts of warm fuzzy feelings.
The Rastafari caterpillar, one of my favorites and played by Ensemble favorite Kenneth Early, tells a story of patience and pride with the song “Who Are You?” The Cheshire Cat known as CC, played by Brooke Steele, sings a funky jazz tune titled “I Am Who I Am.” CC sends Alice down her path to encounter the White Rabbit and Mad Hatter. Alice joins a tea party full of unsolvable riddles and then plays a game of croquet with none other than The Queen! The audience must remember to applaud when the Queen, played by Deb G. Girdler, enters the stage. Her king stands small but mighty by her side. He is her little puppet. Literally.
Starving and dehydrated, Alice steals a tart from The Queen’s tray. When the Queen realizes that her baker’s dozen of tarts is one short, Alice is quickly found out and must stand trial. Here is when she realizes her wrongdoing and recalls her mother’s advice: Run every race with a smile, be kind and polite to others and be true to yourself.
Not wanting to face the punishment of losing her head, Alice apologizes to the Queen and begs for mercy. The Rastafari Caterpillar (now a Butterfly) even speaks on her behalf. He compares his journey from a patient caterpillar to a beautiful butterfly bursting with bright colors to Alice’s journey of learning to be kind and respect others. A journey that we all go through, old or young.
The message I took away from this story is that you are never too old for a reality check. I often get caught of up in my own world and don’t listen or respect others as much as I should. Being kind, even though it sounds so easy, is something that many of us forget to do.
“Alice in Wonderland” is not just a story for children. It sings the life lessons we all need to remember.
Marissa Staples is Cincinnati published author and writer for The Voice of Black Cincinnati. She developed her love of arts from her mother, Kandi. Being a native of Cincinnati, she loves to travel. If she is not traveling, you can find her reading, writing, volunteering or drinking wine. Wine always brings smiles, friends and creative dialogue.