On Stage: Down the Rabbit Hole

by Chuck Conconi

‘Alice in Wonderland’ falls short of Synetic Theater’s usual standard of creative brilliance. 


Synetic Theater’s production of ‘Alice in Wonderland’ was not up to its usual standards, according to reviewer Chuck Conconi. (Photo courtesy Synetic Theater)

“Alice in Wonderland” has been described as a work of literary nonsense, just the kind of theatrical experience that Paata Tsikurishvili is enticed to stage in his Synetic Theater productions. And the creative whimsy of his Synetic resident company often succeeds. “Alice in Wonderland,” now at Synetic, unfortunately is not one of those successes.

Like other Synetic productions, it is exuberant and often magical, but for all of artistic director Tsikurishvili’s creative brilliance, this production lacks focus and energy. Also surprising is that the choreography of Irina Tsikurishvili seems disjointed. Irina is a talented choreographer and her dance and movement skills are something to admire and anticipate. She also usually performs in Synetic productions, but isn’t on stage this time.

Her energetic, complex choreography is what makes Synetic productions so special. The best of the several dance movements in this show was when Alice meets the caterpillar in one of her strange adventures down the rabbit hole. It is in this fantastical world where she meets the most familiar characters: the White Rabbit, who is fanatic about being late, and the Cheshire Cat with the lasting grin. Or as Alice sagely observes about having “often seen a cat without a grin but never a grin without a cat.”

Written in 1865 by Lewis Carroll, the pseudonym of Charles Ludwig Dodgson, after a made-up storytelling session with children, the magical tale has echoed down through the years and has been the inspiration of several stage and film productions, most familiarly the 1951 animated Disney musical that highlighted the White Rabbit singing, “I’m late! I’m late for a very important date.”

The script, adapted by former Washington Post drama critic, Lloyd Rose, is of limited dialogue, perfectly suited to Synetic’s unique understanding that creative movement and dance can often eliminate the necessity of excessive verbiage.

Daniel Pinha’s set design, a convoluted network of twisted metal that wraps out into the seating area, is strong enough to support the gymnastic acrobatics of White Rabbit, Tori Bertocci, in a standout performance. Colin K. Bills lighting design and Kendra Rai’s costuming establishes an appropriately dark Fellina-like atmosphere.

There is something unfinished about the production that can be worked out over the run of the show. Synetic is a special metropolitan Washington institution that is worth experiencing even when a production is not up to the company’s impressive standards.

“Alice in Wonderland” continues through November 8 at Synetic Theater, 1800 South Bell Street, Arlington, VA. Tickets are $15 to $65 and available at 866-811-4111 or online here

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