- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 22, 2005

With “Alice,” Whoopi Goldberg and playwright Kim Hines attempt to give Lewis Carroll’s classic story some street cred.

Why the enchanted tale needs hectically pasted-on hip-hop flourishes begs to be answered. The outcome of this adaptation of Miss Goldberg’s 1992 children’s book is an uneasy combination of Eddie Murphy’s character in the “Mr. Robinson’s Neighborhood” sketches from the old “Saturday Night Live” and the more cynical elements of “Willy Wonka.”

Alice (Audra Alise Polk) is an outspoken — some may say rude and smart-mouthed — young girl whose life is all about the Benjamins. She is fixated on money and dreams every night about living large so she can ride to school in limos and take her family to Disney World at will. For a child as mercenary and money-minded as Alice, it seems odd she would have an imaginary friend who is a rabbit (James Konicek) because a dancing and talking ATM would seem more appropriate. Of course, in Miss Goldberg and Miss Hines’ world, the rabbit is a guy named Sal sporting a five o’clock shadow, worn plaid pants and a hunting cap that seem more typical of a crazy homeless person than a whimsical, anthropomorphized animal.

Alice’s wishes appear to be granted when she gets a winning ticket in the mail. To claim her prize, however, she must travel to the Big City. With Sal and her geeky, playing-cards-obsessed best friend, Robin (Nehal Joshi), tagging along, Alice navigates the scary streets in order to cash in. Along the way, they meet a bevy of unsavory characters — among them a scam artist named Sherman (Jason Lott), who operates a shell game in a video arcade and two upper-crust leeches, Mrs. Rump (Erika Rose) and Mrs. Lowdown (Jason Lott), who give Alice drugs and try to steal her ticket. The show stops shy of a crackhead Cheshire Cat or streetwalking Queen of Hearts, and you wonder why the creators were struck by such late-breaking taste and discretion.

After enduring one of the most excruciatingly lame rap songs since Shaq picked up a microphone, Alice finally realizes that some things — such as friendship — are more important than a phat bank account and more bling than Snoop Dogg’s. Thank heavens Alice learned her lesson, because by this time, the one-hour show has more than worn out its welcome.

It’s a shame “Alice” is such a base, graceless clunker, because the production has so much going in its favor. James Kronzer’s set is simple and flexible, consisting of giant, graffiti-splashed letters spelling out “Alice” that double as beds, tall buildings, construction sites and other city sights.

The cast includes many solid Washington actors, including a touchingly gawky Mr. Joshi as the stalwart friend Robin, Miss Rose in a variety of roles, and Mr. Konicek adding seedy appeal to the part of Sal.

The new Family Theater at the Kennedy Center is a beaut as well. The hanging car parts from the old AFI space are gone, replaced by light wood walls and boxes, comfy seats and carpeting in Cookie Monster blue. We can only hope that future productions will be more child-savvy and less frantic and base than “Alice.”

*

WHAT: “Alice,” by Kim Hines, based on the book by Whoopi Goldberg

WHERE: Family Theater, Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

WHEN: 1 and 3:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays. Through Jan. 2.

TICKETS: $15

PHONE: 202/467-4600

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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