Why is a raven like a writing desk? "Alice in Wonderland," playing at the Greenbelt Arts Center, conceived by Andre Gregory’s Manhattan Project and directed by Betsy Marks Delaney, teases, tantalizes and poses—but doesn’t answer—this and other eternal riddles.
This Alice is one for the grownups—and maybe older children and teenagers. The cute Disney creatures and the wacky, soulful human dolls of Tim Burton’s recent reinvention have given way to a cadre of somewhat menacing and ever-so-slightly-scruffy countercultural street performers, who wring double entendres and political commentary out of the Lewis Carroll’s slightly salacious texts.
In its eeriness and menace, this performance most closely resembles the quintessential "Alice in Wonderland," the combination live action and stop-motion animated film of Czech surrealist, Jan Švankmajer.
The multitalented performers remind us that the best special effects are those created in our own imaginations—ably assisted by their inspired use of dance and movement. Alice’s tumble down the rabbit hole is evoked by the other four cast members bodily passing Alice (Liz Cassedy) from one to the other in a dizzying game of Keep Away.
Reminiscent of the impossibly contorted body formations of the dance group Pilobolus, three of the cast members create a physical mushroom that supports Ryan Willis’s louche caterpillar, who resembles a sixties rock star in his shades and green brocade jacket, sniffing a hookah that is the outstretched arm of one of the mushroom formers.
Delaney and the cast recreated the collaborative theater process used by Andre Gregory in the original production. The creative staging process depends on an ensemble theater company, where each member shapes the piece, and the interactive intimacy of the group makes each production unique. The program makes note of the unexpected departure of a cast member, which necessitated some cuts—rather than a last minute replacement.
As the program reminds us, this production is set in the “HERE” and “NOW.” Though the original production was conceived in—and recalls—the psychedelic 1960s, it also brings to mind current events—the caucus race echoes the televised Republican debates, and the chanting in unison echoes the “People’s Megaphone” of the Occupy Wall Street protests.
The steampunk-styled costumes are a feast for the eyes, and the chessboard floor and minimal stage set is perhaps the best use of GAC’s theater space that I recall seeing.
So after feasting at the Thanksgiving table, check out the schedule and “feed your head” by seeing this extraordinary production at the Greenbelt Arts Center, up until December 3.