August 16th, 2010

You can sing along

Through the Looking Glass and into the Woods

On Saturday, I saw a production of Alice in Wonderland, adapted by one of the founders of Theater Pub and directed by my Antigone director, at Theatre in the Woods, which is exactly what it sounds like. It's theatre! In the woods! And it turned out to be the perfect setting for a unique theatrical experience.

The site was a nightmare to get to, and I was over ten minutes late, but, thankfully, they held the show if everyone hadn't arrived yet (the run was completely sold out). The show began in the area where everyone was picnicking, and although I had missed the picnic time, it appeared that Alice and her sister were sitting there, in character, the whole time. When the play officially started, Alice and her sister discussed Tennyson's poetry until the White Rabbit appeared from a trail to our right, and then Alice went to follow him, and her sister encouraged us to move. And so we followed Alice down the rabbit hole, down a winding trail enclosed in branches that made it seem like a natural vortex and peppered with knickknacks like old clocks and typewriters. Meanwhile, Alice kept talking. "Mr. Rabbit!" she called. "Mr. Rabbit!" Or she would make comments about what she was seeing. The girl would not shut up. The actual "scene" would not start until the audience had all gotten situated, but if we got to a scene early, like with the tea party, the characters would still be ad-libbing lines as if we had just walked in on the actual scene. It was like being in a computer game: the NPCs had numerous programmed statements that they would say if you clicked on them, and then you would watch a cutscene. I tried to be near the front of the line so I could hear what the NPCs were saying; I felt like I was missing half the show otherwise! For instance, Alice pestered the Gryphon the whole way to the trial, asking him whether his wings worked and why he didn't just fly. "I put on the Wonderland 30," he said. "I don't know what that means," she said.

While we were usually just following Alice around in her adventure through Wonderland, we did become part of it during the croquet game, which was playing through the audience. Guards would ask audience members to help them form the hoop. More excitingly, however, when the Knave of Hearts's hedgehog hit the Queen of Hearts, he—recognizing me in the front row—fingered me as the culprit. "Off with his head!" cried the Queen. Immediately, a couple executioners came up to me and asked if I hit the Queen. "No," I said. Are you very sure? "Yes," I said. Then I pointed to the little kid next to me and said he did it. So they asked him. They questioned several other members of the audience as the game went on.

The whole show was a delight from start to finish, incorporating elements from both books into one cohesive narrative (as it were). They even did the shrinking/growing effects by changing the size of the set and props. The script used many of the famous lines but added original dialogue that was in the same spirit. I recognized several actors from previous shows, but I had never seen Alice before, which helped since I could only see her as Alice. She was so convincing I thought maybe she was actually an overgrown seven-year-old from England. (Then she came out after the show with leggings and cleavage and unkempt hair, and the illusion was destroyed. The power of makeup and costuming! Also, acting.)

I hung out and chatted with the actors after the show. The Mad Hatter knew who I was, as my reputation preceded me. Oh dear, I have a reputation, and it got to the show first, since I was late. I had seen him in Giant Bones, the March Hare in Twelfth Night, the Duchess in Terroristka, and the King of Hearts in Dionysus, and that was in addition to the three or four actors I already knew personally. It's fun to be able to see actors play different roles so well! Sometimes in the same show, as in this one.

In Ann Arbor, I had seen Shakespeare in the Park do As You Like It, which involved the audience moving from place to place between scenes, but I've never seen anything like this production of Alice in Wonderland. Lewis Carroll would be proud.