‘Alice’ is an innovative twist on a classic
Most theater productions take place on a traditional stage in an enclosed theater, but for its production of “Alice in Wonderland,” the Brandeis Ensemble Theater decided to take a different approach. Alice (Talia Bornstein ’19) and the White Rabbit (Lynnea Harding ’19) interactively led the audience through the Shiffman Humanities Center, with each room serving as the backdrop for a different scene. Each scene was directed by a different person, leading to many perspectives being lent to the play.
The audience, dressed as the cat Dinah, donned their cat masks and were thrown down the rabbit hole into the magical world of Wonderland. The first scene was “The Caterpillar,” directed by Otis Fuqua ’19. In this scene, Alice met the Caterpillar (Riely Allen ’18) and danced with him to “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.” Bornstein and Allen ran around as if in a trance, climbing on top of the stone blocks outside of Shiffman and even inviting audience members to dance with them. The sequence had a psychedelic vibe and made me feel like I was in as much of a trance as Alice.
Following this encounter, the audience chased the White Rabbit, as the White Rabbit madly played violin, inside to meet Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum (Remony Perlman ’19 and Andrew Hyde ’17). In most other productions of Alice in Wonderland, the two are portrayed as relatively stupid and harmless. In director Dylan Hoffman’s ’18 scene, however, the two were reimagined as swingers based on those who frequent sex clubs in 1970s New York City. Wearing latex jumpsuits and carrying whips, the two loomed over the petite Alice menacingly as they told the story of previous visitors who met grisly fates.
We then met the Gryphon (Ben Astrachan ’19) and the Mock Turtle (Sivan Spector ’18) in the scene directed by Tres Fimmano ’18. The two argued with Alice and among themselves about the merits of education and a dance they told the audience called “The Lobster Dance.” I enjoyed the witty dialogue, but while the two tried to engage the audience by teaching them the dance, I did not feel very engaged, and the scene felt too disorganized even for Wonderland.
Next was “The Duchess,” directed by Raphael Stigliano ’18. The Duchess (Eli Esrig ’19) sat in his chair while Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum chanted about abusing children. The props fit the song; among them was a babydoll submerged in a jar of water, which Alice subsequently rescued and cradled lovingly as she brought it back to life.
Dan Souza’s ’19 scene “The Cheshire Cat” featured three Cheshire cats (Yasmine Haddad ’20, Sophia Massidda ’20 and Nyomi White ’20) pining for an elusive laser paw as the music from the infamous Nyan Cat played in the background. The three prowled around madly, clawing at and stepping on a computer in an act of sheer rage as they unsuccessfully chased the paw.
We travelled to “The Mad Tea Party,” directed by Rebecca Myers ’18. Much of the scene was composed of the Mad Hatter (Haia Bchiri ’20) and the March Hare (Caitlin Crane-Moscowitz ’20) saying the word “well” back and forth and trying to explain the rules of their tea party to Alice. The Mad Hatter and the March Hare kicked teacups everywhere, the Mad Hatter laughing madly and the March Hare screaming shrilly as the Dormouse (Emma Cyr ’19) amusingly slept through the entire ordeal. The scene was haunting, and each actor convincingly portrayed their character, though the sequence seemed slightly longer than it should have been.
Finally, a game of croquet gone wrong led Alice to the Red Queen’s Court for a criminal trial, which was directed by Fimmano, Myers and Gabe Walker ’19. The Queen (Oyemen A. Ehikhamhen ’17) deftly bossed around the King (Andrew Agress ’17) and intimidated Alice, proclaiming, “Sentence first, verdict later.”
Witnesses were called forward and the two sides engaged in an intense game of chess where the people were the game pieces.
The situation soon got even more hostile, with Alice killing many of the characters.
I enjoyed this production of “Alice in Wonderland,” especially with the non-traditional setting and interactive approach.
All of the actors played their parts very well, and even the scenes that seemed too long or a bit disorganized were interesting. I left the show happily surprised by the innovative twists the directors put on the show, which gave me a fresh perspective on the oft-interpreted tale.