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.