Plan-B Theatre-Radio Hour: Alice

Posted October 20, 2009 in

Alice In Wonderland has been filling the minds of the young and old with imagery that is both twisted and comforting for generations.  It has been told and interpreted time and time again with each telling pushing the story in a different direction.  Disney’s interpretation of the tale added enough fluff to make the story easy to swallow for generations to come and serves as the standard modern interpretation of Carroll’s classic.  A long line of merchandizing has followed, insuring the masses of easily swayed tots that Wonderland is a magical place where one could take solace and comfort in sitting in on a tea session with the Mad Hatter, much like the Walrus leading those poor oysters to their fate. 

Matthew Ivan Bennett, who wrote the Radio Hour adaptation, has something else in mind—something much more twisted, more graphic, and much more intense.  He, along with Director Cheryl Ann Cluff and producing director Jerry Rapier, have “turned Wonderland on its ear.”

“This is a dream, this is all a dream.” Says Bennett, “ but this is a Halloween dream.  In everything I describe I try to push it into the bad dream realm.”  There couldn’t be a more accurate description of how Alice has been transformed into a dark and terrifying tale of a girl being lost in the darkest depths of her subconscious.

Plan-B has partnered with KUER to bring you Alice live over the radio as well as a line up of live performances at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center, and according to Rapier, “The best experience is to see it and then listen to it.  You get both ends of it.  You realize how easily it comes across on the radio, but you get to see everything else that goes into it.” 

Being a radio drama, the audience is able to play a large role in the interpretation of the story by having to imagine what is happening.  Plan-B provides the story, the sounds and the music.  What you choose to do with this is up to you. “I hope that at some point the audience really closes their eyes and imagines that they are there,” says Bennett.

The story is told as if members of the audience are themselves Alice.  The show begins as the narrator Psychopomp, played by Bill Allred of X96’s Radio From Hell Show, instructs the audience to “Relax and close their eyes” so they are more susceptible to the horrors that are about to be unleashed.  Sitting in on a rehearsal, I was easily entranced by the suggestions.  Aside from what Rapier describes as “A suggestive metallic rabbit hole” which consists of steal beams assembled in what seems like a large cage, there is really no set, and the room is dark aside from a few lights focused on the actors sitting on stage, the foley artist, and the composer.  The actors sit on stage at microphones as their small group portrays several different characters from Wonderland. 
“The actors are so comfortable with the material that the audience can’t tell that three people are acting as several different voices,” says Rapier. 

Watching the actors, you are able to see what they have to do to generate the wide scope of voice effects, characters, and emotions as they bounce, shiver, and scream.  Their facial expressions are just as transforming as their voices. 

Many of the characters from Lewis Carroll’s original text are included and the general story isn’t changed significantly, but small creative choices are made in the delivery of the story that are very effective in transforming Alice into a much darker tale.  For instance, Bennett describes the Mad Hatter as a “psychopathic borderline pedophile.” This becomes very apparent as his character makes several interesting choices that would make me think twice about being in his company, or god forbid, joining him for tea. 

After eight years of The Radio Hour, Alice will be the last radio drama that Plan-B will be doing for a while.  “In our 19 year history, we’ve done eight radio shows and they’ve been a big part of what we do,” Rapier says. “Sometimes a little time away helps you take a fresh look at things.” So this may very well be the last opportunity to enjoy Plan-B’s flair for what Cheryl Ann Cluff describes as “what engages the imagination differently than other forms of theater, where pictures are created with voices, music, and sound effects, but the audience is more engaged and more active with their imagination.”  And in the case of Alice, greatly disturbed.

Visit for show times and to purchase tickets.  The live radio broadcast will be on October 30th at 11:00 AM and 7:00 PM on KUER, 90.1 FM and XM Satellite channel 133.