CURIOUSER AND CURIOUSER: People are perpetually prying and poking into Lewis Carroll's fascinating children's books "Alice in Wonderland" and "Through the Looking-Glass," hoping to get a handle on the mysterious author, born Charles Lutwidge Dodgson.
"Looking Glass," performed by Woolly Mammoth, is the latest peek into Dodgson's interior life, which has been dramatized, musicalized, cinematized, psychoanalyzed -- and trivialized. Written by Michael Sutton and Cynthia Mandelberg, "Looking Glass" is a charming but ambiguous vision of the life of Dodgson, who while at Oxford became enamored of eight-year-old Alice Liddell, the dean's daughter and inspiration for the "Alice" tales. Dodgson, also a noted photographer, took some nude studies of Alice and the other Liddell kids, which caused him no little trouble.
The play makes some whimsical speculations on the origins of such classic Carroll concoctions as the White Rabbit, the Cheshire Cat and the Mad Tea Party, and nicely emphasizes Dodgson's apparent distaste for the dreary adult world. Infatuated with childhood, he frequently mentions stopping the passage of time, which may explain why mathematics, and particularly photography, were such attractive media for him.
While the playwrights overindulge in heavy- handed psychological jabber, they remain squeamish about what seems to be their main subject: the touchy topic of Dodgson's relationship with Alice. 'Looking Glass" straddles the fence, insisting that Carroll was a true innocent amid jaded adults, while simultaneously planting psychological suspicions of his sublimated sexual feelings for little girls: Dodgson's encounters with Alice have an unsettling adult tone about them.
Jill Covington, an adult actress, has the difficult task of convincingly creating an eight- year-old, and Covington comes as closeas can be expected.
Dodgson is endearingly played by Grover Gardner as a stammering, blinking prepster who could himself be the prototype for the White Rabbit. The evening's most enchanting moments come when Gardner calms down and simply recites Carroll's words in his remarkable voice. LOOKING GLASS -- Performed by the Woolly Mammoth Theater Company at New Playwrights' Theater, through April 7.