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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review

By Laura Hitchcock

When I was your age, I never thought because I went to school every day. ---Lewis Carroll.
A Noise Within does caroling like nobody else, maintaining its mandate to present the classics. Last year their holiday show was A Wilde Holiday: Fairy Tales by Oscar Wilde. This year director Sabin Epstein and composer Laura Karpman have constructed Carrolling, a sung-through text from the works of Lewis Carroll, the mathematician best known for his children's stories.

A superb quartet and their accompanist perform this work cunningly assembled from some of Carroll's short stories and poems that introduce a world beyond Alice in Wonderland and Through The Looking Glass. Although it doesn't have the poignance of Wilde's narratives, Carroll's work has an almost avant-garde sense of story, using fantasy and parable to access the subconscious and illuminate the human condition.

Carroll out-Dickens Dickens in his names. Who can forget the Snark, the Jabberwock and the Bandersnatch? He tells a charming ghost story in which the haunted invites the haunters to dinner and they accept ends when they realize they've got Mr. Tibbs, not Mr. Tibbets, and bid a friendly goodnight to the man they've come to call Old TurnipTop. The ghostly dialogue is slyly underscored by accompanist David O on a wind machine.

In a sketch that parallels the author's identification with his characters' independence, the characters stand around the bed of a sleeping girl who's dreaming them up. One cautions the others not to wake her and they start to quibble about the dreamer and their lives within her life. Then they segue into the famous The Lobsters' Quadrille sung in an exquisitely surreal dreamlike manner.

Children's word games stem from school, the business and career of children and the source of the above quote that children don't think when they go to school. In Carroll's day they were spoonfed lessons which, he puns, make them lessen from day to day. He jovially puns many of their subjects, such as Laughing and Greek.

Set to glorious jazz music that mirrors a jam session, which the wonderful Deborah Strang interprets like a belter with a gravelly voice, Carrollingmakes us remember how many of our favorite quotes are Carroll-born -- "Believe six impossible things before breakfast" is one; "Jam yesterday, jam tomorrow, but NEVER jam today!" is another. Epstein continues his use of contemporary idioms to complement Carroll with an excerpt from The Jabberwock that's done like a Japanese horror movie.

Epstein's grand finale is The Hunting of the Snark, in which each actor performs a different line in impeccable verbal choreography that expresses Carroll's tempestuous humor without losing a beat.

Costume designer Angela Balogh Calin deserves credit for the women's lustrous satin costumes that change color in the light and for the Victorian virtuosity of the gentlemen's formal wear. Ken Booth's nuanced lighting design underscores mood with delicious delicacy.

This work deserves to become a CD, hopefully performed by the splendid Ann Marie Lee, Michael McKenzie, Deborah Strang and Michael Vodde with David O as accompanist.

Constructed by Sabin Epstein from the work of Lewis Carroll
Director: Sabin Epstein
Cast: Ann Marie Lee, Michael McKenzie, Deborah Strang, Michael Volde, David O (accompanist)
Music Composed by Laura Karpman
Lyrics arranged by Shannon Halwes
Set Design: Michael Smith
Lighting Design: Ken Booth
Costume Design: Angela Balogh Calin
Running Time: 1 hour 20 minutes, no intermission
Running Dates: December 12-19, 2004
A Noise Within, 234 South Brand Avenue, Glendale, CA, Ph: (818) 240-0910
Reviewed by Laura Hitchcock on.December 12.
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