Perhaps no book better reflects the surreal world of dreams than Lewis Carroll's 1871 masterpiece, "Through the Looking Glass, and What Alice Found There." Strange events, a world based on a chessboard and sudden changes in theme and story populate the book, making the reader feel just like Alice - as though in a dream.
Rosemary Nursey-Bray's adaptation staged by Dennis Christilles at Kansas University's Inge Theatre captures the flavor of the book perfectly. Alice (Amy Buchanan) goes from a world of dull, white sheets into one filled with color and exotic characters.
Christilles creates a set dominated by the chessboard theme that dictates the structure of the story. The "board" seems to expand whenever Alice needs to go somewhere and contract when she doesn't. Many of the people she meets along the way are chess pieces - the kings, queens and knights for both white and red. The Red Queen (Rebecca Ralstin) promises to make Alice a queen if she can make it across the board to the eighth square. Naturally, this is harder than it sounds. This is, after all, a dream.
But whose dream is it? According to everyone Alice meets, it is the Red King's (Logan Walker) dream - Alice is just a character in it. Therefore, she must not wake him, or she will disappear. It all makes perfect sense in the dream logic of Looking Glass Land, where everything is backward.
Along the way, she meets Humpty Dumpty (Brady Blevins), who is confident he cannot fall from his wall, despite Alice's warning. She is chided by flowers, drawing lots of giggles from the children in the audience (during Tuesday's school-only performance) when they chanted, playground-like, "Stupid, stupid," at Alice. And the White and Red Knights (Jordy Altman and Angela Chrysostomou) duel hilariously for her freedom, approaching just as they would on the chessboard, slavishly following their prescribed movement patterns.
One of the funnier moments for adults occurs when the White Knight, having sustained a vicious blow, stumbles backward in the L-shaped move a knight must execute in the game. (Sadly, none of the other chess pieces adhere to chess rules, but the children hardly noticed, and perhaps in the dream world not all pieces have to do what they're supposed to.)
The highlights of the show, though, are Tweedledum and Tweedledee. Played with frenetic lunacy by Ben Cook and Matthew Crooks, they whirl around the stage with delightful abandon, playing ball, telling stories and fighting over a broken rattle - just as Alice predicts they will through her knowledge of the nursery rhyme concerning them. They recite the full poem of "The Walrus and the Carpenter" with the characters played by puppets expertly operated by Chrysostomou and Chelsie Shipley.
When Alice at last makes it back home, she is left to wonder if it was all a dream, and if so, whose. It doesn't matter, though. Whether her dream or the Red King's, she pulls us along with her through the looking glass to the delight of all.