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Alice's Adventures in "Wonderland" at Rage of the Stage

This pastiche has a certain panache

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In celebration — or at least commemoration — of the 150th anniversary of the publication of Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, the Rage of the Stage Players have dusted off their 2006 interpretation for a third production. Company co-executive producer James Michael Shoberg once again directs his Alice's Adventures in "Wonderland" with an ensemble of double-, triple-, even quadruple-teamed cast and crew. Shoberg himself has nine credits in the program; his wife and co-exec producer, Carrie L. Shoberg, eight.

Note the quotation marks. Carroll's dream Wonderland becomes a nightmare for this Alice (Rachel Carey), a Catholic schoolgirl — an appropriate stand-in for the original in terms of symbolizing innocence, obedience and troublesome intelligence. The talking animals of the Shobergs' urban dystopia are more metaphorical beasts: predators, pimps and other unpleasantnesses. Kinda like how American suburbanites view any city.

Pittsburgh's answer to Le Théâtre du Grand-Guignol, Paris' famous (or infamous) gore show, Rage/Stage is more about tropes and tableaux testing the limits of bad taste. But this pastiche has a certain panache: outrageous costumes with a careful eye for character illustration as well as visual impact. Even if you wince at the adolescent sex banter or miss the playwright's clever allusions to and distortions of Carroll's masterpiece, you can just gawk at the many-hatted Mad Hatter or the various dominatrices of the Hearts pack. The garb for the Queen of Hearts (Lilly Van Sixx) is also a marvel of engineering, so that her cups do not runneth over completely.

The first time I encountered the Rage/Stage Alice, in 2009, it was in a "theater space" more ramshackle and disreputable than the company itself, which shone in a clipped, well-timed production. From the comfortable seats of the thoroughly respectable McKeesport Little Theatre, Alice seems, ironically, less cohesive. The house does provide for greater intimacy, true, but do you really want to be close to these people?

Do we need to add that Alice's Adventures in "Wonderland" is not for kiddies or the tender of heart? There's something to offend everyone with multi-layered humor and perverse pomp.

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