June 23 2010 12:00 AM

Mary Job conjures up a different Wonderland



Let’s be honest. Growing up, "Alice in Wonderland" probably scared us as much as it entertained us, particularly if you were raised on the 1951 Disney film. And now that Tim Burton has given his bizarre twist to Lewis Carroll’s classic novel, we may be even more mystified by the story than ever.

Never fear: Michigan State University’s Summer Circle is offering a new perspective. The outdoor summer theater group will perform "Alice in Wonderland" today through Saturday, and it certainly won’t feel like a Disney movie.

“I hope it’s energetic enough and rambunctious enough to appeal to the younger audience, but thoughtful enough and strange enough to appeal to an older audience,” said director Mary Job.

The script, written by the Manhattan Project theater group, interprets the story with an emphasis on physical acting, presenting significant moments of both Carroll’s "Alice in Wonderland" and "Through the Looking Glass" like playground games and using actors as both characters and scenery.

“Manhattan Project came up with this script that not only examines the stories as stories in themselves but also examines what they felt to be some of the underlying themes or assumptions about the books, (and) about why these books were written, Lewis Carroll’s relationship with Alice Liddell — his muse, if you will — and they came up with this script that was very physical.”

The play features six MSU student actors: Jenn Shafer plays Alice, and Rusty Broughton, Andrew Harvey, Kate Buselle, Jonathan Wierenga and Rachel Frawley constitute the ensemble.

Job also added her own touch to the Manhattan Project script.

“To me, the story of ’Alice in Wonderland’ has always been this cockeyed look at the adult world seen through the eyes of children,” she said. “And maybe that’s still true. The fact is that we tend to want to control children and they don’t happen to be very controllable. They interact with the world in a very different way.

"But what really comes out in ’Alice’ and what certainly comes out with the Manhattan Project’s take on it is that the adult world essentially says to children, ‘Here are the rules and here’s what you’re supposed to do, and we’re going to control you.’ And they don’t follow their own rules. They violate them, they make them up, they change them, all the while maintaining their moral superiority that we are the rule makers, we are the authority, we are the knowledgeable people. That to me is the basic message in ’Alice’ and I think it still resonates to this day.”

This summer marks the 50th anniversary of MSU’s Summer Circle Theatre, and Job’s return to Summer Circle to direct “Alice” is part of an alumni reunion. Job factored the group’s golden anniversary into her choice of plays, she said.

“We were looking for something that would have broad appeal but would also be sort of unusual,” she said. “We were playing around with a couple of different scripts and I said,
‘You know, I’ve got this script, and I’ve always wanted to do it. It’s
a very odd version of ‘Alice in Wonderland.’

"It’s different, because
it does rely so much on physicality that it might be really good for
outdoors where listening to complicated text can be difficult. And the
actors have done a really nice job of committing to a style that’s not
a standard one.”

Job believes Summer Circle’s production of “Alice in Wonderland” will have something for everyone.

“One of the things that has interested me lately is the way certain types of cartoons like ‘Antz’ or ‘WALL*E’ or ‘Up’ manage to
combine that sort of children’s/ comic book/high-energy/funny jokes
with themes that adults get intrigued by,” Job said. “It’s sort of like
they appeal to your inner 10-year-old and then you realize something
more is going on. We’re hoping to appeal to everybody’s inner
10-year-old then say, ‘Oh, by the way, isn’t this a bizarre world? And
have you taken a look at your own world lately?’”

’Alice in Wonderland’

p.m. Wednesday, June 23 through Saturday, June 26 Summer Circle Theatre
Performed at the outdoor theater near Michigan State University’s
auditorium Free www.summercircle.org