While Disney saturates the media with ads for its Tim Burton extravaganza Alice in Wonderland, young Island thespians are sending Alice tumbling through a television screen instead of a looking glass, in a play about the absurdity of media-saturated consumer culture, called Alice in Americaland.
On stage at the Grange Hall this weekend, Alice in Americaland is full of one-liners by Dennis Snee, who honed his chops writing for Johnny Carson, Bob Hope and Rodney Dangerfield. The patter of his script has a familiar rhythm: Hare: “I thought you didn’t drink anymore.” Hatter: “Right, but I don’t drink any less, either.” Boom, tish!
Or listen to Caterpillar: “The Sturgeon General selects smoked salmon specifically.”
The banter will come from an ensemble cast of more than 20 Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School students from fifth to eleventh grade, the age group often labeled “media obsessed” (by the media), ironically preforming this show described as a diatribe against the mindless pleasure Americans take in the media.
“They get it, they really get it,” says director and charter school teacher Treather Gassman of her young cast and the script’s lampooning of corporate-controlled media, voracious consumerism, self-obsession and jingoism.
In addition to a tutorial on the subversion of pop culture, the kids are also getting a lesson in the art of theatre from Ms. Gassman, whose uncompromising approach takes her students through the same breathing, improvisation and other advanced techniques she used while performing in college and professional productions. “They are learning how to handle mistakes on stage, how to really listen to each other. But they just love getting on with the play rehearsal, they are having a lot of fun with it.”
There’s no shortage of fun to be had — Alice is accused of being a shoplifter, meets a rabbit fearfully awaiting nuclear holocaust, and takes on the Cheshire Cat, who has evolved from a ubiquitous riddler into an obnoxious reporter.
Alice’s fate, it seems, is to descend into the maelstrom of pop culture as a naive consumer and resurface as a savvy adult who can see through flimsy factoids with informed analysis.
Likewise, the audience will learn why we all have to look beyond the box — literally, the idiot box — ourselves.
Playing tonight at 7 p.m. and Saturday at 2 and 7 p.m. at Grange Hall. Cost is $6, adults; $4, students; or $20 a family.