06-08-11-wizard-of-wonderland.jpgComing direct via a rabbit hole and the yellow brick road, two of fiction’s famous girls meet Saturday, June 11, at Pope Theater for two performances of Dorothy Meets Alice, or, The Wizard of Wonderland.

The one-act play is the base’s entry into this year’s Army Festival of the Arts competition, so all of the cast and crew are either active duty, retired, Department of Defense civilians, or family members of military personnel. The event also marks a return to theatrical productions in Pope Theater after about a decade.

“It’s a wonderful family play,” said Denise Heller, the action offi cer for the project with the Family and Morale Welfare Recreation offi ce, which is producing the show. “In the combination of their stories, there are a lot of good lessons learned for kids about tolerance for other people who are different from you, getting along with other people, not procrastinating and doing your homework.”

The story opens with Judson, played by Sgt. Ben Weathersby, falling asleep before fi nishing a project for school. He awakes to fi nd himself in the Tulgey Wood, borrowed from Lewis Carrol’s “Jabberwocky” poem and used in the play as an in-between place where Wonderland and Oz border. He’s quickly joined by Dorothy, played by Fort Bragg Middle School student Madison Shiffl ett, and Alice, played by Department of Defense civilian Sara Hylla.

The Cowardly Lion, The Tin Man and The Scarecrow are here, too, along with The Mad Hatter, The Dormouse and The White Rabbit. Together, the two sets of characters learn lessons, help each other and Judson, and evade the play’s villains, The Wicked Witch of the West and The Red Queen.

Local theater veterans Joyce Lipe and Grace McGrath steal the show as they portray their parts of the witch (Lipe) and the queen (McGrath) with relish and glee. In the play their characters meet for the first time after being longtime pen pals, but Lipe and McGrath have worked together before in local community theater.

Lipe said she’s excited to help restart a theater program on base, something she was involved with in the past. Even better, her role as the green-faced wicked one is the first that has been more than just rewarding and exhausting.

“This is fun,” Lipe said. “This is the first time in all the years I’ve been acting that it’s been fun. It’s been fun finding her, being wicked but not evil.”

McGrath echoed her sentiments about having a good time on the production.

“The play itself is funny, and then the people we’re working with are a great ensemble,” McGrath said.

Staff Sgt. Ruben Avila-Burns, the director as well as The Mad Hatter, said the play has appeal for adults as well as children. A fi rst-time director, Avila-Burns hopes the play will win awards in the competition and renew the MWR’s theater program.

“It’s kind of stressful, for one, because it’s my first time directing, and for a competition,” he said. “And it’s the first time there’s been a play on Fort Bragg for 10 years so, yeah, no pressure,” he joked at a rehearsal in May.

The director said he hopes for a full house at both performances, which he thinks will help with the competition.

“When you’re on stage you feed off the energy of the audience,” he said. “It makes the show go faster and brings up the energy of the house.”

The show will be judged for competition during the second showing, at 7 p.m. All aspects of the show, from acting to lighting, could win an award. In last year’s entry into the competition, a talent show, one of the participants won second overall for best dance, according to Heller.

For the active duty members of the cast and crew, the competition has more on the line than just bragging rights against other military installations. The annual arts festival is also used as a feeder program for the U.S. Army Soldier Show, which scouts performers and crew members to join its annual traveling entertainment program.

The show runs at 2 and 7 p.m. at the theater, which is located in Building 372 Virgin Street on Pope Army Air Field. Admission is $5, with family four-packs for $15, and children under 5 admitted for free. The show is open to the public, but tickets must be purchased at Leisure Travel Services on base. For more ticket information, call (910) 907-3617.

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