Imagination flags in Utopia Theatre’s ‘Every Day Alice’

It’s a great idea for a play: a writer named Alice, who’s perhaps bipolar, loses her extravagant imagination when she’s on her meds.

But when she avoids taking them, she’s excitable and changeable (a different Alice every day) and is writing a book that channels “Peter Pan” and “Alice in Wonderland.”

In this Utopia Theatre Project premiere at PianoFight, the characters from those children’s classics materialize onstage: child-like Peter (who, in Alice’s real life — as in the dream/reality sequences in “The Wizard of Oz” — is actually Peter, her restless boyfriend); Mr. Smee, the ever-hurried White Rabbit; a grinning Cheshire cat and more.

But “Every Day Alice,” written by Anne Yumi Kobori (who herself plays the mercurial and gifted Alice), goes astray.

The playwright has simply tried to shoehorn too many scenarios into one overlong, multi-scene one-act play. And she herself doesn’t have the actorly chops to portray the lead.

The play starts off with a zany Mad Hatter’s tea party in the hospital where Alice is currently incarcerated until the doctors decide she’s mentally stable enough to go home. (“Who are you?” asks the psychiatrist, echoing Lewis Carroll’s caterpillar.)

When Alice is forced to take her pills, she feels small (as in the Jefferson Airplane song), and the wacky storybook characters disappear.

Soon enough, the play loses its charm and originality and turns into what feels too close to a formulaic soap opera, full of repetitive scenes of domestic quarreling.

Peter abandons Alice and takes off for adventure, partly because he thinks she doesn’t really love him. Alice is angry and hurt and turns to Peter’s best friend, James, for comfort. James’ ballerina girlfriend, Isabel, who hasn’t spoken for six years due to PTSD, suddenly regains her voice, and it turns out she’s a real bitch and nasty to James, the only one who truly understands Alice and doesn’t pressure her take her pills and be “normal.”

So we know where this is headed.

Interwoven, though, there are some lively musical interludes in which James (Ben Euphrat) plays a mean piano (including a terrific rendition of the sea chantey “The Bonnie Ship the Diamond”).

Katie Rubin also takes hilarious turns as, among other characters, the self-important and delusional Mad Hatter, and Joshua Marx is a gawky, likable Peter.

Still, under Maryssa Wanlass’ direction, the pace drags, bogged down by numerous and unnecessary set changes. Here, and elsewhere, Alice’s imagination would have come in handy.

Every Day Alice
Presented by Utopia Theatre Project
Where: PianoFight, 144 Taylor St., S.F.
When: 7 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays; closes March 9
Tickets: $12 to $35

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