Now a confident and widely acclaimed explorer, "Lookingglass Alice" has been traveling. She's picked up a new White Rabbit. She locks heads with a different Mad Hatter. The Red Queen comes from a whole different pack. And her Tweedle has a fresh Dum. But Lauren Hirte's warmhearted, adventurous, trapeze-loving Alice, back in Sweet Home Chicago for the summer, is just as curious as ever.
And just as much fun.
David Catlin's free-wheeling, circus-loving, theatrical riff on Lewis Carroll's classic yarns — previously produced at Lookingglass in 2005 to much-deserved success — has an uncommonly strong impact on an audience, especially the core audience of 'tween girls. That's partly because Catlin has fashioned an empowered, thoroughly modern girl from Carroll's Victorian creation, while retaining just the right sense of period whimsy and childlike innocence. And although the play has enough visual flourish and audience interaction to satisfy even the squirmiest young person, Catlin also has fashioned a show that a parent cannot help but love.
Typically, when you see a young woman wrapped around a rope or flying above your head on a trapeze, you're watching a voyeuristic exhibition. But with the help of Hirte, an intense but self-deprecating performer who avoids preening like the plague, Catlin and his crew shrewdly recast the circus apparatus as an empowerment tool. In this show, Alice strives, Alice works, Alice learns, Alice believes in herself, and Alice succeeds. And judging by the highly vocal and physical reaction from the kids in Tuesday night's audience, she's quite the hip role model. And her current multitasking cohorts — Lawrence E. DiStasi, Kevin Douglas, Anthony Fleming III and Jesse Perez — are all, as they would say, as cool as the cool side of the pillow.
Granted, adults on a Michigan Avenue date would need a well-developed sense of play to enjoy this material as a centerpiece of an evening. But as East Coast audiences discovered earlier this year, the "Lookingglass Alice" stacks up well against any national piece of physically oriented theater.
Because the cast is small and the scale of the piece containable, Lookingglass makes this lovable little show quite spectacular, in a Jabberwocky-friendly kind of way.
"Lookingglass Alice" is through Aug. 12 at Lookingglass Theatre at Water Tower Water Works, 921 N. Michigan Ave. Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes. Tickets: $20-$58 at 312-337-0665.