Theater Review: A joyous holiday with Alice and Greetings

Chicago may have A Christmas Carol, but we are blessed with two outstanding productions for the season—Alice in Wonderland at NAT and Artists’ Ensemble’s Greetings at Rockford College’s Cheek Theatre.

Alice in Wonderland

Resonating from the stage, Alice reflects the energy and cooperative effort of Director Tony Vezner, a stellar cast, and a production crew that has created a moment of magic for the audience. In a recent interview with Vezner, he shared his enthusiasm for classic theater and the intellectual stimulation it provides.

Alan Williams, an innovative designer, originated the costumes and sets that take us through the looking glass into Lewis Carroll’s often madcap Wonderland. Tables rise magically from the floor, doors open to reveal the garden where croquet mallets are pink flamingos, and the Red Queen’s enforcers are a deck of playing cards ready to behead at a moment’s notice. Williams credited a costume crew that included Alice’s mother for the invaluable help they provided. The Caterpillar (Gorden Odegard), The White Rabbit (Jim Stauffer), The Mad Hatter (Erik R. Uppling), and my favorite, The Cheshire Cat (David B. Causey) became the characters we visualized when first reading Carroll’s classic.

Lauren Alexandra, a teen-ager whose vast experience enables her to be an Equity actor, is the perfect Alice. Her adventures are enhanced when we pass into the world of computer graphics as she searches a corridor for a door into which the mysterious key will fit. David Kortemeier is Charles Dodson (Lewis Carroll), the storyteller who brings Wonderland to life. The fine ensemble plays a multiplicity of roles most effectively.

Everyone involved credited Vezner’s openness to new ideas as the key to the success of the production. His adaptation led to multiple meetings, and everyone involved contributed. That effort is obvious in every moment of the play. Alice in Wonderland belongs to everyone, and we as the audience are taken with Alice in her dream to a world inhabited with those who so represent the real world. Playing through Dec. 30, enhance your holiday with a dreamy theater experience. Call 964-6282 for tickets—good gift idea!


I’m sure it wasn’t planned, but Artists’ Ensemble’s holiday production, Greetings, is the creation of Tom Dudzick, the playwright whose Over the Tavern played to such good reviews in Chicago and here in Rockford. Dudzick’s work reflects his life in a Polish Catholic family, and the foibles that occur when religion and everyday life meet. He says, “Catholics don’t take themselves so seriously… thank God, they can laugh about it, or I’d be out of a job.”

Andy Gorski (David Gingerich) and his fianceé, Randi Stein (Betsie Swartz) are returning to Andy’s home in Pittsburgh for the Christmas holidays. His father, Phil (Barry B. Nyquist) is an angry man. Life is one crisis after another, and he yells at Emily (Pat Staaf), his patient wife, constantly. Mickey, their retarded son, is played by Martin McClendon, whose limited vocabulary challenges his family.

In a quiet moment, Emily insists that Mickey has actually said, “Greetings.” No one is convinced. The complications of the homecoming are revealed when Phil discovers Randi is an atheist raised in a Jewish family. It is inconceivable that a good Catholic son would choose such an inappropriate lifetime companion.

The entire cast brings professional theater to a new level. Nyquist’s anger consumes him and us. Staaf performs her household tasks as a shield against the emotional outbursts. Hoping for the best, Gingerich tries to calm the waters, and McClendon, the loving non-communicator, dreams only of an upcoming wrestling match.

Magic occurs when Mickey finds a voice. Dudzick uses this moment to bring the importance of communication to us. Listening is critical. Not just another funny play about Catholics, Greetings has a depth that represents the true meaning of our beliefs and how they make our lives bearable.

It is so good to see actors who have been an essential part of local theater with us again. Welcome back, Barry and Martin. One of my first reviews, A Christmas Carol at NAT many years ago, included a mention of Martin as Young Scrooge. Following his career over the years at Steppenwolf, Northlight, and as a founding member of Defiant Theatre, his return is deeply appreciated. Greetings plays through Dec. 18 with two additional performances on Thursday, Dec. 8 and 15. Call 226-1400 for ticket information.

From the Dec. 7-13, 2005, issue

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