Zoot brings ‘Wonderland’ to Centerville

​​Centerville’s Town Hall Theatre presents the return of Zoot Theatre Company’s entertaining, imaginative production of Lewis Carroll’s whimsical “Alice in Wonderland” Friday through Sunday, Aug. 22-24.

Adapted by Human Race Theatre Company resident artist Scott Stoney and staged last season courtesy of the Victoria Theatre Association, this Landmark Theatre Series showcase features four puppeteers narrating the account of Alice’s magical journey with the Mad Hatter, Queen of Hearts, the White Rabbit, and more. Zoot puppet and mask designer/artistic director D. Tristan Cupp created nearly 25 puppets with a mechanical, steampunk essence to give the captivating tale a fresh, unique twist.

“What Zoot does so well for Dayton is provide a visually-based prism for grown-ups and children alike to experience theater,” said Town Hall managing artistic director Mark Metzger. “So often, we see puppetry for kids, but Zoot’s approach goes beyond that and plays for a general audience. It doesn’t mean that kids can’t enjoy their work. It just means that the work isn’t ‘dumbed down’ for a perceived young audience.

“(Puppetry) does work well with young audiences especially because it’s not as wordy. It’s more visual. It engages the imagination and asks audiences to fill in the blanks,” Metzger explained. “In that way, it draws the audience and captures their attention. They don’t want to miss a moment because the dialogue may not be sufficient to tell the story best. When executed well, each of a puppet’s individual movements is a choice made by its operator to tell the story (or) emotion. Nothing is accidental.”

“Tristan Cupp took up his tools and began to build puppets that encompassed the personality of the characters through the eyes of Zoot,” explained Natalie Houliston, who portrays the Queen of Hearts and others. “Scott Stoney took up his pen and wrote an adaptation of the book and crafted it specifically for the actors. Together, they created an ‘Alice’ that was ‘Zootified.’ A steampunk version of the story that has all your favorite characters: a duchess on a scooter, a white rabbit with racing goggles and a little girl trying to find her way.”

Terrific last season as Eddie and Dr. Scott in Zoot’s “The Rocky Horror (Puppet) Show,” Houliston has been a fan of “Alice in Wonderland” since childhood and says she has returned to it often as an adult. She is particularly drawn to its complexity, humor, intelligence and poetry.

“The tale touches issues that will be forever relevant and current issues that generate questions that still don’t have sufficient interpretations or answers,” she said. “What is time? What is reality? Who are we? What is a dream? It is no surprise Zoot picked up the banner and began to create, inspired by Alice and her adventures.”

The cast also includes Heather Atkinson as Alice, Eric Arntz (excellent last season as Squealer in Zoot’s “Animal Farm”) as the March Hare and others, Lisa Bernheim as the Cheshire Cat and others, and R.J. Steck as the Mad Hatter and others.

“For us, the opportunity to tell ‘Alice’ in a new way and to do so in such an imaginatively stimulating way for our audiences here was not one to be missed,” added Metzger, who notes Town Hall has staged various adaptations of ‘Alice in Wonderland’ multiple times over the past 23 years. “Collaborating with Zoot challenges and develops our audiences and our mission. I like that very much indeed.”

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