The Play Has Moved from a Little Theater in Astoria to BAM in Record Time.
Alice comes to BAM…
Last year, Ophelia Theatre Company produced Your Alice, a new play by Billie Aken-Tyers, in a space opposite a gym in Astoria. Last week they opened it up at BAM. This staggering feat is a testament to the sheer willpower of this group of individuals, and the gusto and moxy of the theater they have created. Further to that, after their run in Brooklyn, the cast and crew will see themselves headed to Scotland to perform the show for the culturally ravenous crowds of the Edinburgh Fringe. To see a play do one of these things is incredible, to do both smacks of divine intervention. So what's the hype about?
Writer/Director Aken-Tyers' work sees the story of Alice in Wonderland unfold alongside the real life misadventures of Alice Liddell and Charles Dodgson (Alias Lewis Carroll). As these two spend a leisurely afternoon in a boat on a river, Dodgson creates the world of Wonderland for the amusement of the eleven-year-old girl, and watches in marvel as she frolics in its catacombs. However, his characters turn to him and warn him that he may be watching a little too closely. His affection appears to be far more than friendly, and his obsession with Alice grows ever more worrisome (both to him, his characters, and the audience) over the course of the play.
Photos by Danny Bristoll
Therein lie the makings of an Alice for the #MeToo era. Dodgson wrestles with his unnatural feelings for the young girl, even as she seems to intimate that she is very much interested in him. As these uncomfortable scenes play out, the world of Wonderland works its charms. The cast sings, dances, leaps, cajoles, and generally performs with enough energy to keep the lights on for years. The physical theater of these scenes is whimsical, imaginative, and visually astounding, especially considering the shoe-string budget the show was conceived on. Alice nearly drowns in a pool of her own tears, a Caucus-Race occurs to much delight, and the Cheshire Cat (Tamara Sevunts) leads a two-person band (herself on piano and Megan Magee on clarinet) that sets the stage positively alight with the music of Stephen Murphy. It's all quite marvelously realized.
The interaction between the real and surreal here is curious. At times, we are simply watching the world of Wonderland as we know it. At times it is a symptom or expression of Charles' unnerving desires. At times it is a counterpoint to his feelings. At times it is an interpretation of Alice's inner life. Whilst fascinating, this approach can be a little muddling at times, particularly when combined with the upside-down logic already endemic to the worlds of Lewis Carroll.
When it comes to the play's most controversial point is when things get curiouser and curiouser, however. Luke Antony Neville and Eliza Shea are both stellar in their parts as Dodgson and Liddell. Neville seems brilliantly uncomfortable with his every utterance, in sharp contrast to Shea's indomitable incandescence. Her Alice burns through the play, almost to the point that you could believe Dodgson was her victim. However we well know given the dynamic of the relationship that if anyone is the victim, it's Alice.
Photos by Danny Bristoll
The relationship between these two actors is layer upon layer of uneasy fascination. The play, drawing from passages of Dodgson's private documents, expresses inner thoughts that make audience members squirm in their seats…and yet the play seems to have you rooting for them. It resolves to leave you feeling unresolved. Carroll is neither outright condemned for his feelings nor praised for his timeless creations. Liddell is never definitively his pedophilic toy, nor his beloved muse. Nevertheless the feeling of a violation persists throughout the play, making it a meaty discussion piece that will never be wholly summed up in a single review. The play doesn't offer you answers, instead it begs to be talked about.
So what is Your Alice? What can best be said to sum up the experience? A miraculous melding of timely commentary and meticulous world-building? A brilliant cast lending fathoms of depth to an already probing text? A feast for the senses that defies your expectations of what can be realized on a stage? A good looking piece of theater that will also make you deeply uncomfortable for all the right reasons? The answer is buried somewhere amongst all of the above. Give Your Alice a look. You will not want to be late for this very important date.
Thomas Burns Scully is a Popdust contributor, and also an award-winning actor, playwright, and musician. In his spare time he writes and designs escape rooms. You can follow him on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
POP⚡DUST | Read More…
Plus celebrities react to Nigerian protests.
Young people across Nigeria have been pouring into the streets for the last two weeks to protest police brutality, specifically the controversial special police force known as the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS).
Tension came to a head on Tuesday when armed forces fired on protestors in Lagos, the biggest city in Nigeria, who were out past the state-mandated curfew. According to AP News, "Police also fired tear gas at one point, and smoke could be seen billowing from several areas in the city's center. Two private TV stations were forced off the air at least temporarily as their offices were burned."
Not all non-binary people prefer gender-neutral pronouns.
October 21, 2020 marks the third annual International Pronouns Day.
Created by an independent board and first observed in 2018, it's one of those small commemorative holidays that trends on Twitter in hopes of drawing attention to a pressing social issue, like International Women's Day (March 8th) or the ever so serious National Taco Day (October 4).
But Pronouns Day in particular "seeks to make respecting, sharing, and educating about personal pronouns commonplace." The organization's website further describes, "Referring to people by the pronouns they determine for themselves is basic to human dignity. Being referred to by the wrong pronouns particularly affects transgender and gender nonconforming people. Together, we can transform society to celebrate people's multiple, intersecting identities."
But in the words of nonbinary activist and Trevor Project's Head of Advocacy and Government Afairs, Sam Brenton, "Pronouns are hard." Never before have pronouns been scrutinized as closely as they are in 2019 for their power to (in)validate or accurately describe something as fluid as gender identity. In fact, it was only this year that the Merriam-Webster Dictionary expanded the definition of "they" "to refer to a single person whose gender identity is nonbinary" (thus codifying a long history in English language of using "they" to refer to a singular non-gendered entity).
‘Everyone has the responsibility to be respectful.’ — The @TrevorProject’s Sam Brinton is explaining why pronouns a… https://t.co/pMMO8KRvBR— NowThis (@NowThis)1571253180.0
But throwing an additional wrench in the works is the fact that not all non-binary people prefer gender-neutral pronouns.
Take me, for instance: Despite having female biology, I couldn't pass a lie detector test saying I'm a "woman." But my pragmatic, Puritan family is still endearingly confused by the idea of "liberal arts," let alone the notion of gender fluidity. And I'd rather share a communal language with them than do the emotional and mental labor of re-orienting their worldview for them. Plus, I have the privilege of passing as female without feeling too, too, terribly dysphoric (which non-binary people can definitely suffer from, despite not identifying as trans).
But enough about me, look at Queer Eye's beloved Jonathan Van Ness. While he's been outspoken about being genderqueer, gay, and HIV positive, he prefers he/him pronouns. "The older I get, the more I think that I'm nonbinary," Van Ness said. "I'm gender nonconforming. Like, some days I feel like a man, but then other days I feel like a woman." As he told Out magazine, he doesn't identify as a man, but he does prefer "he/him/his" pronouns. In his view, those pronouns don't detract from or contradict his non-binary identity, because gender is not about simple binaries between masculine and feminine identifiers. "Any opportunity I have to break down stereotypes of the binary, I am down for it, I'm here for it," he said. "I think that a lot of times gender is used to separate and divide. It's this social construct that I don't really feel like I fit into the way I used to."
On the other hand, last month non-binary singer Sam Smith announced that their preferred pronouns are "they/them." Smith posted to Instagram, "I've decided I am changing my pronouns to THEY/THEM ❤ after a lifetime of being at war with my gender I've decided to embrace myself for who I am, inside and out." People like Smith and Trevor Project's Sam Brenton simply feel more validated, seen, heard, and true to themselves with gender-neutral pronouns. Smith wrote, "I'm so excited and privileged to be surrounded by people that support me in this decision but I've been very nervous about announcing this because I care too much about what people think but f*ck it!"
Most importantly, as pretty much every non-binary person and activist is aware, changing cultural norms is hard. While LGBTQ+ activism is inspired and passionate and dedicated to expanding human rights to all gender identities, we all know that changing society's entire understanding of gender and pronoun usage is about slowly opening minds. As Smith wrote, "I understand there will be many mistakes and mis gendering but all I ask is you please please try. I hope you can see me like I see myself now. Thank you." Happy Pronouns Day to you/him/her/they/(f)aer/zim.