Looking Glass Theatre, the longtime Rhode Island children’s theater company, must have fallen down the rabbit hole. One day it was here, applying for state arts grants, performing at local schools. Then suddenly, as Lewis Carroll might have said if he had grown up in Woonsocket, “there they were…gone.”
So maybe Alice doesn’t live here anymore.
If so, that would be a shame. The first time I saw the company, I was a student at the late, lamented West Barrington Elementary School. (Where one brick building once stood now dozens of homes squeeze together in a garish parody of a Hollywood set. Wisteria Lane meets Washington Road.)
A traveling company from Looking Glass performed some of Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales” in the cafeteria-auditorium, where they always sent us for meals, indoor gym class and whenever they wanted to show us movies about the Harlem Globetrotters or the evils of smoking. The story I remember best was “The Pardoner’s Tale,” the one where three men are told that they will meet Death under a tree. They discover gold coins instead and praise their good fortune, but inevitably greed consumes them and the prophecy is fulfilled. It was a transforming experience, opening my eyes to the instant magic of theatrical storytelling. It also served as my introduction to the rich world of Chaucer.
Eleven years later, I was out of college, working as a cub reporter for a weekly newspaper in southern Rhode Island, with Saturdays off. I noticed a small advertisement: Looking Glass was looking for actors for Saturday presentations of an Old Stone Bank - (also late, not as lamented) -sponsored series telling little-known stories of the American Revolution. I was chosen to act in one of the short plays, chronicling the lively narrative of Tempe Wicke, a New Jersey woman who played an important role in the war. My role was a narrow-minded American soldier – somewhat blustery, quick-tempered and chauvinistic, like a cross between Yosemite Sam, Foghorn T. Leghorn and Tom DeLay. Every Saturday, we traveled to two libraries around the state, carting our set, changing into costume and improvising the play a bit to fit the space and keep us sane. It was a chance to act and get paid for it. More importantly, it was an opportunity to explore the quirky communities of my native state as I visited places like Hope and Chepachet for the first time. I don’t remember much about the actual play, except that I got my comeuppance twice a week, and the kids loved it. The run ended, and I haven’t been asked for my autograph since.
At its peak, Looking Glass presented more than 300 performances a year throughout New England. There are Looking Glass Theatres in New York, Chicago, San Diego and Pennsylvania, but apparently Rhode Island is no longer part of Wonderland. Does anyone out there know what happened to the company?
As one might expect of the smallest state in the nation, Rhody is a place that likes its diminutives. The state’s daily newspaper, The Providence Journal, is known colloquially as the “ProJo,” (PRO-JOE) while Rhode Island College is “RIC” (RICK). The former Providence Civic Center, now the Dunkin’ Donuts Center – home base for “Friartown” and Providence College men’s basketball – is “The Dunk.” The old Ocean State, now the Providence Performing Arts Center, goes by the horrid nickname of “PPAC” (PEE-PACK). It brings to mind the reason the Community College of Rhode Island system changed its name from Rhode Island Junior College. Because too many locals referred to RIJC as “REE-JECK,” which offered the best of both worlds in Rhody slang, combining a memorable diminutive with the hardcore Vo Die-luhn accent.
What is your favorite Rhody diminutive?