In the mid-1960s Arthur Penn and actress Anne Bancroft, director and star of The Miracle Worker, were invited to help start a theater and training center for deaf actors and audiences. Excited by the idea but too busy to carry it out, they suggested it to Penn's frequent collaborator, Broadway set designer David Hays, who took on the project. The result was the National Theatre of the Deaf, founded in 1967 as America's first professional touring ensemble to mix spoken and sign language in its productions. While NTD helped inspire a slew of regional deaf theaters (including the Chicago area's CenterLight), it's maintained its own distinctive performance style, fancifully blending gesture and mime with sign language and speech, as it does in this imaginative, irreverent adaptation of Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. Adapter Larry Arrick, director Adrian Blue, and choreographer Michael Tracy (of Pilobolus) eschew Disney-style technical effects and celebrate the essence of live theater as a grand game of make-believe, framing the familiar story with scenes of photographer-storyteller Lewis Carroll visiting Alice Liddell, the little girl who inspired him. The actors in this family show (including onetime Chicago performer Michael J. Stark as Tweedledee) have great fun with the sign-and-speech form--especially with the Caterpillar (played by three men atop each other's shoulders), who signs his dialogue with six unsynchronized arms. Preteen Jorjan Lynn Jeter is a winning but restless heroine, her jittery petulance reminding us that all children feel like Alice--too big for some things and too small for others. North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie, 9501 Skokie Blvd., Skokie, 847-673-6300. Wednesday, February 12, 7:30 PM. $25. --Albert Williams
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by T. Charles Erickson.