Review: ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,’ fit for a trip

 Emiley Kiser as Alice in Quintessence Theatre’s production of 'Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland.' (Photo by Shawn May.)

Emiley Kiser as Alice in Quintessence Theatre’s production of 'Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland.' (Photo by Shawn May.)

Holy mushrooms! Quintessence Theatre Group, the Mount Airy stage company devoted to the classics, is dressing Alice in her ’70s best.  They’ve brought out the accessory that gives the classic “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” a pumped-up psychedelic pop: Blacklights.

The effects are heady and handsome — you’ve never really seen a caterpillar handle a hookah until a blacklight comes into play. “How strange everything is today!” declares Alice, played with just the right mix of wonderment and skepticism by the endearing Emiley Kiser. She is the mistress of understatement.

There’s plenty of fun stuff on stage this holiday season, and you can readily include “Alice” on the list. Quintessence’s artistic director Alexander Burns stages it with a flair for the story’s absurdities, and teams up with a locally-based group called ArcheDream for Humankind — a touring blacklight mask and dance company. They’re responsible for the outstanding Cheshire Cat and Caterpillar costumes and the blacklight effects, enhanced by David Sexton’s general lighting of the show and by Jane Casanave’s cartoonish Wonderland costumes.

This is a song-and-dance “Alice,” — you could call it a sort-of musical in a sort-of plot. To say that it’s disjointed is a compliment — Lewis Carroll’s 1865 book revels in its intricate fabric of disconnected thoughts. British playwright Simon Reade is responsible for the excellent adaptation. For Quintessence, David Cope’s original songs and music and Kaki Burns’ dance steps float in and out of the proceedings, pretty much willy-nilly.

Burns, the director, also designed the scenery — ladders that serve to create everything from a rabbit hole to a tea-party table, plus lots of doors that come and go. Quintessence repertory member Sean Close hops through the show as a rabbit and the versatile Khris Davis plays the Caterpillar, the March Hare and others. The Cheshire Cat (grinning, what else?) is Quintessence member Andrew Betz, and Sean Bradley sings a cool paean to turtle soup as the Mock Turtle. Maneuvering gracefully on stilts, Faith Fossett is the Queen of Hearts; Anita Holland is a weird Duchess plus a weird mouse; Johnny Smith is the truly Mad Hatter.

The production is generally smooth, but sometimes the cast and crew moves a bit haltingly on and off the stage in scene and scenery changes. The obligatory tea party has all the madness and punditry you’d demand, but it moves so quickly it’s hard to take in. If you want a better understanding of it, well … go ask Alice. Good luck with that. 

“Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” produced by Quintessence Theatre Group, runs through Jan. 4 at the Sedgwick Theatre, 7137 Germantown Ave., near Durham Street. 215-987-4450 or

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