Lewis Carroll’s ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ comes of age



James Shoberg’s “Alice’s Adventures in ‘Wonderland” is a twisted, adult adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s work of the same name.

By Ariel Parrella-Aureli

“Curious?” reads the bold black letters on the handcrafted pink blanket in Marc James’ hands. He is working on the blanket at the Side Project Theatre, 1439 W. Jarvis Ave., in Chicago’s Roger’s Park neighborhood for The Cuckoo’s Theater Project’s latest show, which premiered March 26. 

The company is presenting “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” written by James Michael Shoberg and directed by Amber Lee Olivier. However, it is not the typical adaptation of the popular story that was written by Lewis Carroll. This version is meant for mature audiences only.  

“We try to find those stories that are really not your everyday thing but could possibly happen,” James said.

In addition to creating props, costumes and acting in Cuckoo’s productions, James is also the founder and artistic director of the company. 

 The company is currently hosting its first season, which involves a series of shows focused around the loss of innocence. To date, the company has produced “Mr. Marmalade,” August, 2014 which was its inaugural production, “The Tempest” and “The Eight Reindeer Monologues.”

“We normally do dark subject matter,” James said. “For some people [darkness is] growing up. For some, it’s the fear of loving somebody. As an ensemble, we try to find the light within the darkness to illuminate the truth.” 

James said he thought “Alice” was the right kind of show for the series. He said he also wanted to produce the show because he grew up with the original story and found solace in Alice’s journey of discovery and yearning. 

Shoberg’s version of the story is bold and has a modern twist, James said. The play is stripped of all the magic and talking creatures and focuses on the new world Alice enters as a portrayal of the horrors of reality, James said.

Shoberg, who has written and produced shows nationally and internationally for more than 20 years, originally debuted “Alice” in 2006 in Pittsburgh, where he lives and runs his own theater company, Rage of the Stage Players. He said this is the company’s 14th year of production, and similar to the themes at The Cuckoo’s Theater Project, it focuses on dark, strange and humorous stories. 

Shoberg said he founded his own company because he wanted to stray away from safe, edited theater. 

“I wanted to be able to do whatever I wanted,” Shoberg said. “If the audience didn’t like it, they had the option of getting up and leaving.”

“Alice” was the first of Shoberg’s twisted fairy-tale plays. He said he wanted to write a story that had a non-descriptive location and modern feel so that it could be performed anywhere. He also said he wanted to stay true to the original dialogue and story structure because he is a die-hard fan of “Alice in Wonderland.”

“It was almost like [the play] started writing itself,” Shoberg said. “So many characters adapted so easily to characters unlike people had seen before.”  

James said this dark, edgy production is for viewers 17 years and older because it includes adult material regarding sex, drug use and vulgar language. He said there are disturbing images young people are susceptible to and that he does not want them to see something they are not ready to see. 

“It does hit some pretty heavy stuff and things that make people uncomfortable,” James said. “If it makes you feel uncomfortable, then I’m doing the right thing.” 

Apart from the serious content, director Olivier said the show is very colorful and visually appealing. She said she wanted to portray a world where the fun and the naiveté of “Alice” show through the characters and setting.

Olivier said viewers will likely have a strong response to the play’s material whether it be positive or negative. 

“Either they are going to love it and think it’s great or they are going to be like, ‘I can’t stand it,’ and I am fine with both,” Olivier said. 

“Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” runs through April 19 at the Side Project Theatre, 1439 W. Jarvis Ave. Shows run Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m.