Roustabout Theatre Troupe’s “Mad As A Hatter” Is A Tea Party Reunion With Old Friends
Why is a raven like a writing desk?
Whether we’ve read Lewis Carroll's books or not, most of us are familiar with the character Alice and her adventures in Wonderland. One of the more iconic figures is the Mad Hatter with his tea party and nonsense riddles. Alice was based on a real person, Alice Liddell, but what about the Mad Hatter? Playwright Michael Alan Herman has proposed that he was, one Theophilus Carter, a well-known (at the time) furniture salesman and inventor who, according to Herman and others, bears a striking resemblance to Sir John Tenniel’s original illustrations of the Mad Hatter.
Roustabout Theatre Troupe’s Mad As a Hatter -- directed by Joey Albright -- imagines Carter (Russ Schwartz) and Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll was a pseudonym) as school friends who grew up together then grew apart after Dodgson published his less than flattering portrayal of his good friend in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. In the play, Carter is haunted by his literary alter-ego the Mad Hatter, who not only comes to life but also bears a striking resemblance to Dodgson (both Dodgson and the Mad Hatter are played by Jeffrey Miller).
Into this mutual isolation comes Alice (Allyson Miko), fresh from an engagement proposal from none other than Prince Leopold, youngest son of Queen Victoria. Uncertain about taking her first steps into adulthood, Alice has sought the advice of her two friends, Carter and Dodgson, who are hardly acting like adults themselves. Mad As a Hatter explores the potential repercussions of unexpected and overwhelming fame on these three characters who were also very real people.
Miller is astounding in his very different dual roles. The Hatter is whimsical, colorfully dressed, climbing on tables, pulling tea cups from all nooks and crannies, and spouting his usual nonsense. Dodgson, on the other hand, is not only sedate and speaks with a slight stutter, he is almost dour at times as he at first rebuffs Alice’s attempts to reconnect with him. Schwartz’s occasionally frenetic portrayal of Carter shows a man nearing the end of his rope, and Miko is a charming Alice, a young woman whom the public would keep a child forever, but is transforming inevitably into an adult.
This world premiere story ultimately shows that in growth, there doesn't need to be loss. Growing up isn’t abandoning all that we were. And sometimes good friends can help us remember that.
Crysta Coburn is a desk clerk with the Ann Arbor District Library, freelance writer, editor, and author.
“Mad As A Hatter” continues at the Ypsi Experimental Space (YES), 8 N. Washington St., Ypsilanti, at 7:30 pm on Thursdays, 8 pm Fridays and Saturdays, and 2 pm on Sundays through April 20. For tickets, visit roustabouttheatre.com.