(NOTE: Today’s final performance of Radio Redux’s “Alice in Wonderland” is at 2 p.m. in the Soreng Theater at the Hult Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Eugene.)
By Randi Bjornstad
Everyone — whether on the stage or in the seats at the Hult Center’s Soreng Theater — seemed to have a great time Friday night when Radio Redux did one of its most unusual old radio shows to date, a rendition of Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland” that first aired in 1951 on the Lux Radio Theater.
Everyone performed admirably, but the shining star this time around was 14-year-old Jane Brinkley, a freshman at South Eugene High School, who played Alice with just the right combination of spunk, exasperation and unease about just what she’d done when she dashed down that rabbit hole in her home garden after the enigmatic White Rabbit.
It wasn’t Brinkley’s first role at Radio Redux. At age 11, she made her debut in “It’s a Wonderful Life,” which she repeated the following year. Last spring, she played Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz.”
Her first forays into the entertainment world came even earlier, but she’s not sure acting and singing will be her eventual calling.
“I had my first gig when I was 4, maybe 5, when I did a little educational video,” Brinkley said.
Since then, she’s been active with the Rose Children’s Theatre and Actors Cabaret Eugene as well as “singing in choirs my whole life.”
“I took voice lessons for awhile, but in my opinion, singing in choirs has been more valuable,” Brinkley said. “I really like performing in groups.”
Her introduction to Radio Redux was a bit of an it’s-whom-you-know stroke of luck, the teenager admits.
“Fred Crafts, the head of Radio Redux, is also Eugene’s Ambassador for the Arts, and my grandmother knew him personally,” Brinkley said. “She told him about my being in theater.”
The role of Alice has been her most challenging so far, Brinkley said.
“Of course, with a radio play you don’t have to memorize the part, but standing at a microphone and delivering the lines for a long time is not all that easy,” she said.
“It’s also intimidating to work with such experienced actors,” she said.
It helped that “Alice in Wonderland” has always been one of her favorite works of literature, frequently read to her as a young child.
“Alice is very headstrong, curious and unforgiving,” Brinkley summed up her character in the play. “And I also like to boss people around — I’m very outspoken — so I could definitely identify with her character.”
Others also obviously had fun identifying with theirs, such as Judi Weinkauf, who started the evening delivering meaningful “meows” as Alice’s cat, Dinah, before later turning her attention to the hard-nosed, hard-hearted Queen of Hearts with her penchant for demanding the separation from their heads of all who displeased her.
Al Villaneuva and Achilles Massahos, with their identical propeller beanies, made perfect Twiddledee and Twiddledum. Massahos also had a great time portraying the Cheshire Cat, liberally quoting lines from “Jabberwocky,” which Lewis Carroll had written for his companion piece to Alice, “Through the Looking Glass.”
Dan Pegoda raised the character of the hookah-smoking Caterpillar to an entirely different level with his singular delivery, somewhere between a rasp and a groan.
Steve Wehmeier made a great Dormouse, and Bill Barrett did triple-duty as Carpenter, Mad Hatter and the Hedgehog, who in Wonderland serves as the croquet ball to the Jonathan Ward’s Flamingo, who took on the role of the mallet. Ken Hof doubled as White Rabbit and Walrus.
The Jewel Tones — singers Debi Noel, Jennifer Sellers and Judy Sinnott — who perform their old-time songs and commercial jingles during most Radio Redux productions, also took roles in “Alice,” as Snapdragon, Rose and Marguerite.
“Alice in Wonderland” has one more performance, at 2 p.m. on Nov. 6 at the Hult Center for the Performing Arts at Willamette Street and Seventh Avenue in downtown Eugene.
Tickets are $22 for adults, $19 for senior citizens and $15 for students.