Glensheen’s beautiful grounds were transformed into a magical playground for the University of Minnesota Duluth Theatre’s immersive performance of “Alice in Wonderland" on Monday. With patio-style string lights and other colored lighting throughout the property, the beautiful trees, and the site’s natural and man-made nooks, crannies, hollows and elevations, the overall visual effect was stunning.
Director Jenna Soleo-Shanks’ concept of having the audience follow Alice “down the rabbit hole” and on the path to the sites of various vignettes from the story was inventive. Unfortunately, the actual execution was, at times, much less successful.
Being so immediate to Lake Superior’s crashing waves was wonderfully atmospheric, but added to the difficulty of hearing the unmiked actors. The cast’s relative position to the audience in some places, and blocking that didn’t open them up enough, also caused the audience to miss some of the dialogue.
And while the lights were gorgeous and added dramatically to the ambiance, the actor’s faces were often unlit, causing some of their facial expressions to be lost.
In one instance, audience focus was jarringly split between a smaller scene and, in another location, dialogue, lighting and even an explosion.
Costuming was a mixed bag. Alice’s powder-blue dress, with its twinkling lighted skirt, was absolutely charming. The Mad Hatter’s colorful coat and top hat, and the Red Queen’s elaborate dress and conical hairdo were on point. Some of the other costumes, however, looked like pulled-together pieces from the costume shop that lacked a cohesive concept.
While their performances were enthusiastic and energetic, the cast’s level of acting was uneven. With some diction and projection issues and lack of creative characterization, some of the dazzle of author Lewis Carroll’s imaginative menagerie was lost.
Straight out of Disney casting and with a pitch-perfect voice, Thressa Schultz embodies Alice from the top of her blond head down to her Mary Jane shoes. As the Mad Hatter, Zac Pollitt is appropriately frenetic, and as the Queen of Hearts, Mackenzie Ammon has just the right gravitas and bluster.
I highly recommend audience members bring their own flashlights to help light the irregularly surfaced path. More ushers and the pixie/floral ensemble could also have used additional flashlights to illuminate where people were walking.
If UMD had decided to do a few matinees, younger kids could have come and would not have been afraid of the show’s spookier elements in the dark of night. The show is recommended for ages 10 and over.
Bravo to UMD for tackling a challenging project and venue, and the risks of an outdoor performance in Duluth in the fall. Luckily, on opening night, the theatrical gods were kind, and the rain held out until the very end.
If you go
What: University of Minnesota Duluth Theatre's “Alice in Wonderland”
Where: Glensheen Mansion grounds
When: Sept. 13-16, 18-19, 24-25, 7:30 p.m.
Tickets: General admission $25 adult, $20 senior/UMD faculty/staff/veteran, $10 student student; tickets available at tickets.umn.edu.
Info: 218-726-8561, email@example.com
Audience members are advised that they will be continually standing, walking on uneven paths and navigating over stone slab stairs. People are advised to wear appropriate footwear for a walk, and to dress according to current weather conditions. Masks are required.
Sheryl Jensen is a former teacher, magazine editor and director. She reviews performances for the Duluth News Tribune.