Theater review: Underland at Shadowbox Live

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From the March 7, 2013 edition

The strongest aspect of Shadowbox Live’s newest original show, “Underland,” is its use of collective memory to tell a more personal story. Set in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco in the 1960s, the show uses our familiarity with hippies and their rock musical influences to tell the story of one lost soul in a sea of intentionally adrift ones.

Albert Ice (played perfectly by Robbie Nance) is back from the Vietnam War and completely out of place among the kids, but after seeing his teenage daughter on TV, he’s come to the neighborhood to track her down.

Although the story is based loosely on “Alice in Wonderland,” it also seems to be unfortunately reminiscent of “Back to the Garden,” Shadowbox’s original work about Woodstock. The coast may have changed, but “Underland” still feels like it’s simply treading over well worn territory.

That’s not to say, however, that the show is lacking in some terrific musical performances from the people Albert meets on his journey.

Songs like “How Can I Be Sure” (sung by Nikki Fagin’s Pepper) and “Light My Fire” (sung by Jamie Barrow’s Little Bill) are great at setting the show’s mood, although they don’t seem to advance the story much.

The trippiest performance of the night belongs to head shop owners Mercury and Harriet (played by Brandon Anderson and Leah Haviland). Capturing the crazy spirit of the Mad Hatter’s tea party, the pair shines with a fantastic rendition of Donovan’s “Mellow Yellow.”

It’s clear from the beginning that Albert isn’t completely whole, which is never more apparent than when a trio of all-white spirits talks to him. Soldier Greenie (Tom Cardinal) sends Albert into a weird war flashback through The Who’s “I Can See for Miles,” but it’s really the cat and mouse duo of Amy Lay and Edelyn Parker who steal the show.

Lay’s Cat is certainly the more malicious of the two, as her rendition of “Nowhere Man” serves to remind Albert of his past misdeeds. But it’s Parker’s Mouse who is the forgiving force that Albert seems to need the most. It doesn’t hurt that their duet on “As Tears Go By” may be the strongest performance of the night.