In the public mind, the two "Alice" books by Lewis Carroll (nee Charles Dodgson) are generally smashed into a single hodgepodge misnamed "Alice in Wonderland," as though the tales are interchangeable. They're not. So give credit to local playwright James Michael Shoberg, first of all, for recognizing the distinction in his adaptation of the first and original book, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Shoberg tosses quotation marks around the word "wonderland" for the distinctly X-rated Rage of the Stage Players production, but genuinely seems to have a good grasp of the uptight Rev. Dodgson's wordplay and vision.
Of course, as with all Rage/Stage productions, Adventures has a puerile sex drive and a flair for flashy sets and costumes. But the show bounces along with humor on several levels (Shoberg also directs) and a more disciplined cast, and not just on the usual dominatrix lines.
This Alice is deviant, but actually it doesn't deviate far from the original, with nearly all of the original poems not only intact but also in the same order. Shoberg is simply the latest in a long line of writers, artists and scholars to pick up multiple references to sex, drugs, violence and death in Dodgson's masterpiece. The symbolism of that opening "rabbit hole"? Please. You don't have to be Freud to figure it out.
Shoberg's fantasy is "Wonderland" as an urban hellhole peopled with Brechtian thugs, pimps, addicts and random wackos tricked out to represent -- and recite the poetry of -- Dodgson's animal characters. Thus, instead of the professorial Caterpillar, we have the senile Professor Carter Pillar (played by an appropriately clueless Richard Eckman). While Carroll's critters were generally no kinder than Shoberg's guttersnipes, Shoberg's schoolgirl Alice (Brittany Spinelli) -- who's somewhat older than Carroll's -- doesn't have the same spunk.
Among the highlights of the show is the one-woman mad tea party: Joanna Dowe as both an addled bag-lady (Mad Hattie) and the puppeteer behind March Harriet and a dead rat (a.k.a. Mad Hatter, March Hare and Dormouse). The second scene with the "mouse" in a puddle is very clever, too, with Alyssa Herron as the murine mime.
Part of the fun is catching and solving the word puzzles Shoberg has added to Carroll's. Of course, if that's beyond you, there are still the smutty jokes.
Alice's Adventures in "Wonderland" continues through Sat., May 30. Rage of the Stage Players at the Brewhouse, 2100 Mary St., South Side. 412-851-0922 or www.myspace.com/rageofthestage