Fantasy vs reality

Peter & Alice brings serious enchantment to the Ridge

“Real” Peter (Brett Edwards), “real” Alice (Drenia Acosta) and Alice from Wonderland (Rebecca Allen) meet on the fantasy plane.

“Real” Peter (Brett Edwards), “real” Alice (Drenia Acosta) and Alice from Wonderland (Rebecca Allen) meet on the fantasy plane.

Photo by Jay Chang

Peter & Alice shows Thursday-Saturday, 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, 2 p.m., through April 19, at Theatre on the Ridge.
Tickets: $12-$18
Theatre on the Ridge
3735 Neal Road, Paradise

Most of us in the course of childhood daydreams fantasized at some point about what it would be like to meet our favorite fictional characters in real life. In Peter & Alice, playwright John Logan takes that concept through the looking glass, so to speak, and gives us a fictional glimpse into the lives and minds of the real people who inspired two of children’s literature’s most beloved characters, Alice of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan.

The play is based on the actual meeting in 1932 of the financially distressed Alice Liddell (played by Drenia Acosta) and up-and-coming book publisher Peter Llewelyn Davies (Brett Edwards) in the back room of a bookstore that is sponsoring an exhibition celebrating the works of Carroll. It pits the forthrightly acerbic wit and wisdom of the “real” 80-year-old Alice against that of the somewhat more depressive 30-something “real” Peter.

Using the dual nature of its characters—both real and fantastic—as its springboard, the play takes us on a journey that weaves the biographies and personalities of Liddell and Davies into the qualities of the Alice and Peter characters they inspired. If that sounds like it might call for an overload of expositional dialogue in a character-based drama, well, it does—sort of. But Logan’s script very much embraces that necessity and turns it into a strength rather than a liability.

As the real Alice and Peter begin to debate in earnest the value of their fictional counterparts and the effect that being famous for being a fictional character has had on their personal lives, the bookstore is literally swept aside and replaced by scenes from the fantasy lands that are the source of their fame. To convey this effect, director and set designer Jerry Miller created painted panels depicting scenes and characters from the books, and it is within this fantasy landscape that the real confrontation between the characters and their authors unfolds.

In this dream-like scenario, manifestations of Barrie (Eric M. Ricketts) and Carroll (Richard Lauson) arrive to bolster the recollections and dialectic debate of Alice and Peter regarding the value of their fictitious counterparts. Adding to the dreamlike complexity of the scene, the fantasy Alice from Wonderland (Rebecca Allen) and Peter Pan (Sarah Krulder) also join in. The characters’ voices are then added to the multifaceted debate regarding age, memory and the value of a child’s enjoyment of fantasy vs. the painful and sometimes tragic consequences of attaining age and experience in the real world.

In my favorite scene of the play, the fictional Alice and Peter confront the people who inspired their creation and recite an inventory of their behavioral and emotional problems—Alice for over-indulging in laudanum and lovers and Peter for being a drunkard and an adulterer. Allen’s Alice is as cheerfully sharp-tongued as only a precociously wise child can be, and Krulder’s Peter conveys the arrogance and grace of eternal youth with a dancer’s moves and a patronizing smirk at the follies and concerns of age.

With its very serious themes regarding the individual’s experience of age and memory, fantasy and reality, and its complex narrative blending and shifting between emotional realism and fantastic invention, Peter & Alice is a play worthy of serious contemplation, but it is also very entertaining in the brilliance of its writing and the quality of its staging. Acosta, in the role originally written for Dame Judi Dench, is a wonderfully complex Alice, shifting from the depressed, debt-plagued sadness of a mother whose sons were killed at war, to joyfully dancing bride, to shrewd, quick-witted philosophical debater while maintaining a dignity and poise befitting of an English lady. And Edwards embodies the bitter, tragedy-haunted Peter Davies as a man who struggles to find solace in real achievement rather than remembered pain or imagined glory.

Whether one enjoys fantasy more than realism, or history more than fiction, Peter & Alice offers a worthwhile excursion into both sides of the debate.