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Alice Underground

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ALICE UNDERGROUND, Bugeater Theatre, at Sheffield's School Street Cafe. Almost nothing worthwhile in Lewis Carroll's work survives this sloppy, unfocused, painfully overacted production, Jim Johnson's workmanlike adaptation of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Lookingglass. Johnson, who also directed, has no one to blame but himself: he's allowed his ensemble of six to deliver the kind of self-indulgent performances that make Mad Hatters insufferable and dodo birds ersatz Mortimer Snerd assholes.

Not a memorable moment or scene from Carroll's works escapes unscathed. The tea party is annoying. Alice's trial is baffling. And Reverend Dodgson's wonderful word games are turned into word salad by a bellowing cast that either doesn't know how to deliver the lines or doesn't understand Dodgson's literate jokes. Even Alice's charming encounters with the Cheshire Cat are ruined by Gilmary Doyle, who apparently thinks that to get across the essence of this trickster kitty means smiling and smiling and smiling. It hardly seems fair to single out Doyle, however, when almost everyone in the cast commits the kind of acting sins I associate with substandard community theater.

The exception is Kipleigh Brown: like the sweet, confused Alice she plays, she walks through this mad production alternately amused and annoyed, the eternal straight person to a long series of crazed comic characters. Given such a wonderful Alice, it's a shame Johnson couldn't have surrounded her with a wonderland of playful, enchanting performances.

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