White Rabbits and Purple Lines: Upended Productions’ Inventive Alice Turns Evanston into Wonderland

Photo by Jenn-Anne Gledhill.

This remount of Upended’s multi-disciplinary “walking tour” takes audiences on a 90-minute adventure throughout the Main-Dempster neighborhood of Evanston, and recreates various moments from Lewis Carroll’s beloved Alice stories. Fusing together traditional theatrical scenes, live music, video, visual art and performance, Alice manages to deliver a charming autumn experience, if only occasionally capturing the real whimsy of its source inspiration.

Performed “rain or shine”, the conceit (which I admit, is rather brilliant) casts participants as Alice, and asks them to “chase” one of several White Rabbits through bookstores and alleys, through basements and restaurant patios, stopping at designated performance spots to witness pieces named “chapters,” loosely telling the events of Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. This piecemeal approach allows for an array of performance styles, and adds a general breeziness that is both fun and appropriately Carroll-esque.

Curated by Neo-Futurist Noelle Krimm, Alice contains enough iconography to satisfy casual fans (rabbits, tea-parties, cards and queens), but I could have done with a few more touchstones to Carroll’s dense world. Even so, I was delighted by some of the more realized moments, including a short film by Logan Kibens translating the Duchess scene from Wonderland into a Neo-Western nightmare, and a nonsensical classroom lecture led by Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum, created by Krista D’Agastino, John Taflan and Andrew Biliter of Mudlark Theatre.

Some of the material, such as the opening monologue from my White Rabbit about his father dying of dementia, will no doubt go over younger kids’ heads (a 3-year old in my group stood, mouth agape, and was oftentimes clinging to her mother). But when the absurdity lands, and it lands more often than not, I found myself and my fellow audience members enjoying the good-hearted and inventive artistry, a real sense of community, all in the Golden Afternoon.

Alice by Upended Productions runs Saturdays and Sundays through October 21. Tours leave every 15 minutes starting at 1pm. Tours depart from LaCapra State Farm, 829 Chicago Ave., Evanston. Tickets are $17-$25.

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Matthew Nerber
Matthew Nerber

Matthew Nerber is a performer and theater artist in Chicago, and a former literary contributor with the Generation, the University at Buffalo’s longest running alternative newspaper. When not seeing or making theater, Matthew can be found at the Music Box or expanding his classic rock vinyl collection. He is a 2019 Fellow of the National Critics Institute at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center.