Magical smiles abound in wacky and wordless 'Wunderworld' 

click to enlarge Clockwise from top left, Michael Phillis, Rory Davis, Joan Mankin, Sara Moore and Dawn Meredith Smith appear in "Wunderworld." - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy photo
  • Clockwise from top left, Michael Phillis, Rory Davis, Joan Mankin, Sara Moore and Dawn Meredith Smith appear in "Wunderworld."

You really don't have to be familiar with Lewis Carroll's "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" to enjoy "Wunderworld," a funny, wordless and truly original amusement that follows Alice as a senior citizen on yet another adventure down the rabbit hole. And any hesitation you had about mime will be erased by this charming show, onstage at the Children's Creativity Museum (formerly Zeum) near Yerba Buena Gardens.

It's the brainchild of longtime Bay Area actors and clowns Sara Moore, who plays Alice, and Michael Phillis, who portrays the White Rabbit.

Under direction by Andrew Nance, their fluid physicality and impeccable execution matches their clever concept. The brilliant yet simple tale, complemented by perfectly coordinated music that says more than words do, has universal appeal.

At the outset, to the tune of "Bye Bye Blackbird," Alice and her sister (Joan Mankin, another veteran comic actor), clad in bathrobes and living in an apparent convalescent home, pass the time playing a rousing game of cards. An old-fashioned steamer trunk serves as their table.

Moore's evocative miming and silly sound effects as she shuffles (pffffft!) and deals (thwack!) the deck get the action off to a delightful start. Moments later, the gals are interrupted by a no-nonsense nurse (Dawn Meredith Smith) who brusquely takes their blood pressure, making a riotous sound as she rips the Velcro cuff off their arms and nearly taking their arms with it — hilarious.

The nurse also takes away their cards and insists they go to sleep, but they resist, and soon Alice's journey begins, so appropriately set to the ascending chords of Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir." A map of Wunderworld magically materializes, and Alice, donning a pair of goggles, goes into the trunk. She comes out in a whirlwind, ending up in a strange but inviting place populated by a floppy-eared rabbit, Mad Hatter (Mankin), Red Queen (Smith), tap-dancing Cheshire Cat (Rory Davis) and a big fuzzy, green caterpillar (Smith, Phillis and Davis).

While the colorful, ingenious costumes by Amie Saraz and the ever-inventive soundtrack bring the story to life, the beauty of "Wunderworld" also lies in how well its creators respect and execute pantomime, and how the form wholly engages viewers, inviting their own interpretations of the action.

One final note: The show isn't entirely without words. Adorable versions of "yes" and "no" are uttered, along with prime gibberish at opportune moments, including the pre-show "turn off your cellphones" warning exquisitely presented by Phillis.

REVIEW

Wunderworld

Where: Creativity Theatre, Yerba Buena Gardens, 221 Fourth St., S.F.

When: 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Saturdays, 2 and 5 p.m. Sundays; closes Aug. 11

Tickets: $10 to $15

Contact: (800) 838-3006, www.brownpapertickets.com

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Leslie Katz

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