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Vol. 1, No. 2
I just got back from a business trip to Los Angeles (Santa Monica, actually.) Generally, I don't really like Los Angeles much -- it seems so dry and polluted. This time though, the weather was excellent, and the air was clear enough for me to see the ocean from my hotel window in the afternoons.
Probably the coolest part of the trip, though, was this totally excellent play I saw at some theater called 'Highways' (or something like that), located in the 18th Street Arts Complex.
So, now you're thinking, 'She's obviously one of those theater enthusiasts, so of course she loved it.' Well the truth is that I'm surrounded by theater enthusiasts in my life, so I'm frequently dragged to everything from Broadway shows (and I mean going to NYC to see the real thing), to off-Broadway shows, to community theater. I loathe and despise all of it. Vehemently. Most theater that I've seen is self-involved, pretentious, aimed toward the small-minded masses of America that prefer Harlequin Romances to Dickens, or some wretched combination thereof. The last play I saw that I really enjoyed was in the late 1980s (Kafka's The Trial at CWRU). So, trust me, going to this play was not high on my list of things that I wanted to do in L.A.
Because it takes more than an act of Congress to get me to say that a play is barely tolerable, let alone great, my enthusiasm for this particular play is remarkable, even to me. But the fact is, this performance had absolutely everything -- visual splendor, humor and substance, kitsch, fabulous costumes, good music, an inspired script, a diverse yet unified cast, and a phenomenal level of energy. If you are in L.A. and you have even the smallest regard for classic literature (in this case, Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland), GO SEE THIS PLAY.
The theater reminded me a great deal of the Dobama Theater in Cleveland Heights -- not much capacity, painted black inside, very personal. There couldn't have been room for more than 50 people in the audience. I like that.
The play was called Project: Alice, and was, of course, an interpretation of Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland. It was directed by Robert A. Prior, who also pulled off stunning performances as the Caterpillar and the Cheshire Cat (among other roles). He had the most expressive face -- reminded me of Max in Cafe Flesh. Actually the entire theater company, called the Fabulous Monsters, was theatrically gifted.
What I liked best about the play is that it wasn't just a light-spirited story hour, despite how enjoyable and fantastical it was. Instead, it really got inside the minds of both Lewis Carroll and his Alice character (which, appropriately, are surmised to be one and the same).
Ingeniously, the director used multiple Alices to express both the confusion of the Alice character as to who she was after she fell down the rabbit hole, and the perceived confusion of Lewis Carroll as he tried to cope with his own socially questionable feelings and behaviors. Throughout the whole play, I felt as if I were actually feeling Lewis Carroll's internal struggles, both serious and comical, through his heroine, Alice. I also felt the relevance of these struggles that were before my eyes to each person's own inner grappling with who we really are and who we are supposed to be, what we really think about or desire and what is socially acceptable to think and desire, and our wish to escape versus our instinct to maintain the status quo.
My favorite scene was the story of the Mock Turtle. Bennett Schneider, who played the 'main' Alice, was able to project his character as diminutive, awkwardly polite, inquisitive, and rebelliously honest simultaneously. Meanwhile, the sleek, fluid moves and chaotic allegiances of the Gryphon, played by Daniel Lynch Millner, moved the story forward along the same delightfully confusing path that the story has always taken, at least in my mind. The Mock Turtle, played by Indira Stefanianna, was stunningly beautiful, tragic, and ludicrous, gliding through a range of emotions and back again with such skill that I did not realize the journey I'd been on until the act ended and I realized my emotional fatigue. And I simply cannot describe the Lobster Quadrille's feast for eye and ear with any real justice. (And this was always my least favorite part of the book. Everything is at odds, isn't it?)
Well, I could (and obviously have already) go on for pages about this play. However, rather than describe every wonderful moment, I'll end this dissertation as quickly as Alice woke up from her dream.
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