Alice . . . — In Matthew Earnest's adaptation-with-music of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, this inspired director has pared the ridiculous and illogical events that Alice experiences down to their basics. Using a stark and monochromatic white set as a backdrop, Earnest puts an imaginative and largely excellent cast through their fantastical paces. But by trying to cover too much territory, Earnest's fragile excursion lumbers on for more than two and a half hours. And that's enough to prompt many audience members, and virtually all parents with children in tow, to mutter, "Off with his head!" There is so much nonstop theatrical invention taking place, the staging threatens to swamp the storyline. But it never does, as Alice tries resolutely to resolve her issues of growth, always seeming too big or too small for the situation at hand, while adults persist in presenting her with the most puzzling and insoluble challenges. In the second act, however, the action that occurs "through the looking glass" begins to feel familiar and rehashed. Even a promising segment involving Tweedledum and Tweedledee falls flat, because the poem they recite is never given a clear (even a clearly irrational) context. In the role of Alice, Emily Pote has the slight stature and wide-eyed innocence required, and her strong stage presence keeps this fractured fairy tale from jumping the tracks. All the other characters — and there are scads of them — are shared by 11 other actors who clearly understand and share the director's vision. Much of the show's charm is due to some engaging songs composed by Joseph Troski, who also supplies keyboard and vocals. Although overly long, Alice . . . is a royal feast for the imagination. Through July 19 at the Porthouse Theatre on the Blossom Music Center campus, 1145 W. Steels Corners Rd., Cuyahoga Falls, 330-929-4416. — Christine Howey
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead — Produced in a substantially abridged form by the Cleveland Shakespeare Festival and touring various outdoor venues around town, this play imagines how the two most minor characters in Shakespeare's Hamlet manage their meager existences in the shadow of the prince of Denmark. Living their lives in the uncertainty that is the sad lot of bit players, R&G spend their time flipping coins and pondering the oddities of chance (as the coins land "heads up" 92 times in a row). Racked with an ambivalence that makes Hamlet look like a paragon of decision-making, the pair can't even decide how to exit a room. Guided by director John C. Davis, the actors handle the heady and clever script in fine style. Erin McCardle gives Guildenstern a rational through line, and Allen Branstein's Rosencrantz dashes off in all (wrong) directions at once. As the Player King, the leader of a troupe of actors who wander through R&G's barren offstage life, Chris Bizub exudes thespian charm and arrogance in equal amounts. Conveniently, R&G is being performed in repertory with Hamlet — each concluded in two hours or less, with many actors playing the same characters in both. And since all showings are free of charge, you can easily afford to attend and cross-reference both plays, wallowing happily in the resulting synergy. Through August 3, produced by the Cleveland Shakespeare Festival, free of charge at various locations, www.cleveshakes.org. — Howey
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