There are some stories that are so ingrained in our national (maybe even global) consciousness that you can’t imagine that it wasn’t there at birth. Most of these mythical level of stories have been put there (and fucked with) by the great and powerful Disney.
Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland is one of those stories.
I will freely admit that I’ve only seen that cartoon version–but I have seen that one A LOT of times. Ironically, it was my love of that version that made me not want to see the newest film adaptation. There are just some childhood memories I don’t want Tim Burton anywhere near.
But that didn’t stop me from checking out The Unquiet Theater’s presentation of James Michael Shoberg’s Alice’s Adventures in “Wonderland” at Lorton’s Workhouse Arts Center. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but there were a few clues that it would be a darker themed story that highlighted the drugs and mental health issues in the subtext of the source material. I mean they do warn pretty heavily on all their material, and before they started the play, parental advisory is completely necessary.
Another warning sign that this was not going to be the Alice I had always known and loved was when Director and Founder of the Unquiet Theater Katy Chmura, in her customary talk with the audience before the program began talked about the epidemic of human trafficking.
So, why, you ask would I go see a play that would be so completely different than the movie I loved? Well one reason actually, because it was being done by the Unquiet Theater Company. Only a year old, this group has already set themselves up as the company that brings you the weird, the disturbing and the odd. They shine light on lesser known, yet important dramas and have fun with the risque and cult classic musicals.
Another thing they do that I enjoy, is nurture and help develop local talent. Go to enough of their plays and you’re going to see a lot of new faces. You’re also going to see a lot of the same faces taking on new and every changing roles. Scott Morgan, for instance, has been in most of the productions the company has put on and it has been a pleasure to watch him transform into each character. In this production he plays both Professor Carter Pillar and also the submissive King of Hearts. It is the role of Caterpillar, I mean Professor Pillar, that he really shined, moving and human in a cityscape that had very little humanity left.
Another stand out was Samantha Franklin as the lead character, Alice. She brought to life the things that will always make Alice Alice; the inquisitiveness bordering on too-stupid-to-live-ness that is so very much the character. She also did a great job at standing up to injustices and wrongs, but also portrayed the horror and fear of her surroundings and her harrowing fate.
Like most small, intimate theaters I’ve attended, there is always the challenge of transporting the audience to another place in time, both in the set design, but most importantly in the acting when everything is Right. There. So. Close. Their minimalist, atmospheric staging does a good job of helping, but it is still a challenge that relies on the actor to sell the settings, the emotions and the situations. There were two scenes, two performances that did it the best, in my opinion. The chaotic insanity of Mad Hattie’s “tea party,” with Leslie Barnett giving a spellbinding and oddly childlike-innocent performance as the puppeteering Hattie, and Alice’s run in with frantic and desperate drug-addict Chester. Morgan Henry gave a heartbreaking performance which will probably haunt me for days to come.
So, if you like avant-garde, if you like local theater that is small but daring, you should absolutely check out The Unquiet Theater Company. Their 2015 season looks as twisted an fun as their inaugural season (dramas Wait Until Dark and The Idiot Box for summer and winter and in the fall, Heathers: The Musical.)
And If you like dark, a bit funny and a bit disturbing, you should absolutely check out Alice’s Adventures in “Wonderland.” But hurry, the show only runs until this Sunday.
Local Reads is a set of review blogs that focus on the storytelling of authors, poets, theaters and filmmakers local to Northern Virginia/Maryland/DC area.
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