I do not have enough words to do justice to the NOLA Project’s exuberant, jolly and deliberately silly Lewis Carroll- inspired “Adventures in Wonderland.” Nor do I know where to begin.
You won’t know either.
Because, after all, writer Peter McElligott and director Andrew Larimer give you three choices.
You can sit for the deranged tea party of Alex Wallace’s Catskills comic/glam-rocker Mad Hatter and his live-wire sidekick March Hare, played with manic optimism by Keith Claverie.
You can march inexorably towards the Red Queen’s reign of error led by A.J. Allegra’s Don Quixote/Stewie Griffin combination as The White Knight.
Or you can choose to lose your breath by running with Jake Bartush’s fancy pants White Rabbit and Alice herself while a ubiquitous Cheshire Cat, uncannily doubled by Dylan Hunter and Ross Britz, manages to stay one step ahead.
Costumed by Cecile Covert and Chris Arthur to be reminiscent of both the period from which the tale emerged and the land of make-believe that all kids inhabit in the dusk hour, “Adventures” seems a throwback not only to Carroll’s era but also to a time when Encyclopedia Brown and Choose-Your-Own-Adventure novels captured the imagination of grade schoolers everywhere.
One thing quickly becomes clear: While occasionally exhausting, “Adventures” is a logistical, comic triumph that is suitable for all ages, all moods and all groupings.
Now, choose. The Jabberwocky grows more real with each passing word.
Perhaps it’s best to start at the beginning of McElligott’s adaptation of the celebrated children’s stories and make my way to its end.
In a small oared boat, a beaming Mr. Carroll (Kyle Daigrepont at his absolute warmest) rows three would-be-adventuresses under the bridge of the Besthoff Sculpture Garden and into the lagoon that sits in its center.
Flanking the lagoon, three separate audiences await feisty Carl (Becca Chapman), perpetually apologetic Esther (Kyle June Williams), and primly proper Alice (Molly Ruben Long) to disembark into Wonderland.
Once the girls are safely ashore, each leads their followers on a unique journey unified by a mystery involving missing tarts.
Led by playing cards, birds and mice, you travel under spider statues with Eric Thielman’s groovy Caterpillar, across bridges guarded by Carlos Velasquez’s cracked Humpty-Dumpty, and around artistic installations that perplex Chris Carrington’s Mock Turtle.
Go on, choose. But be careful where you sit or stand, because you might end up a queen’s knave, be called upon to deliver a crucial line or find yourself playing the role of “everyone.”
Follow Esther, and you’ll watch Williams transform a little girl relegated to playing “the villager riddled with plague” into a sputtering, bellowing despot who would send Dick Cheney scurrying back to Mordor.
You’ll encounter Lynae Leblanc’s White Queen, who moves effortlessly from the sweetness of a distracted Glinda the Good Witch to a quite ominous Dallek.
Cammie West and Price Povenzano’s Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum seem to come straight from a London music hall, and Kristin Witterschein’s Duchess is a lascivious cockney creation whose desire for justice is matched only by her want of any available man.
Follow Carl, and you will be treated to a little girl in love with monsters who is unleashed into an extended word game.
Chapman’s schemer in green is the jam that holds the lunacy of Wallace and Claverie’s tea party together.
It is a world where every piece of prop designer Jamie Bird’s selected silverware, cups and saucers can quickly become something magical, mysterious or outright ridiculous.
Pay careful attention to the tea party’s trio of ringleaders as they try to extricate themselves after the arrival of the Red Queen. A solo patron and I caught sight of their slow exit during a folderol with the Red Queen and her knave, and it had the rest of the audience wondering why we were uncontrollably laughing.
Once they looked over, they joined the chortle.
And if you’ve donned your running shoes, you can shadow Long’s Alice.
Like a stoic detective in a British Whodunit, she asks all the right questions, gets all the wrong answers, and has to keep her head to make sense of everything for the grand finale in front of the garden’s entrance gates.
Any mystery that can be solved with farting noises is a good one.
Choose. You can’t make a wrong one.
Jim Fitzmorris writes about theater. He can be reached at email@example.com.