Coming to The Capital Fringe Festival: ‘Alice in Wonderland’ by Betsy Marks Delaney

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Alice in Wonderland: Our world and welcome to it!

Volumes have been written about Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, better known by his pen name, Lewis Carroll. His novels Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass were by no means his only published creative works, but they are certainly the most famous. Translations of his first book exist for over thirty languages.

Liz Cassedy and Ryan Willis Photos from the Greenbelt Arts Center production. Photo by Betsy Marks Delaney.

The genesis of our particular and (some will likely say) peculiar version of Alice’s story has its genesis in the free-thinking avant-garde movement of the early 70s that brought us Hair and Godspell among others. These theatre pieces sought to connect and share their stories with contemporary audiences in the counter-culture Age of Aquarius.

Enigmatic actor/director Andre Gregory’s extraordinary vision of theatre failed to fit the idea of mainstream theatre so completely that eventually he quit to become a lawyer, but not before founding The Manhattan Project (TMP), a company he started with a group of students from New York University in 1968. The members of TMP developed their storytelling over time, creating a pure form of theatre as art and for art’s sake, with minimal costumes, props and scenery. Building on words and movement, they captured the essence of their stories, leaving audiences free to imagine the details.

Alice… premiered in 1972 after over two years of development. Their treatment of Alice…, which borrows liberally from both books, was so well-received that they toured internationally for five years after opening in New York. Gregory eventually received a special OBIE Award and a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Director.

Our talented cast of six brings this surreal fairy tale to life, following the winding, random path devised by TMP, with the help of some modern inspiration based on artists who have also been influenced by Carroll’s timeless tale. With costumes inspired by the recent Steampunk movement, our Victorian era is also slightly off reality, a fitting backdrop for Alice’s experiences underground and through the looking glass.

Each vignette is a game, from the imaginations of our ensemble, ages 14 or thereabouts, stuck inside on one rainy day with their kid sister, Alice, to be tortured and played with in turns. The cast had ample opportunity to observe my own kids, now ages eight and eleven, when we rehearsed for our November performances. The then seven-year-old became a model on which Liz Cassedy, our Alice, built her character. My daughter is in constant motion and so is Alice. It’s that truth that helps us go from very small to very tall without special effects or dramatic lighting. And it’s a workout, involving our audiences as much as our actors in the telling of the story.

Ronda Ansted and Liz Cassedy. Photo from the Greenbelt Arts Center production. Photo by Betsy Marks Delaney.

If you aren’t all that familiar with the original material, you may discover the connections between each scene we portray to be somewhat fluid, perhaps a bit confusing. Alice’s adventures in each book transition in this play with little warning, though they do follow in chronological order.

We start with perhaps the best known work of nonsense ever created: Jabberwocky, a piece so inspirational that Monty Python’s Terry Gilliam took it on as his first solo directing gig. The poem comes from the first chapter of …Looking Glass. From there we find ourselves on the river bank. We then visit the hall of locked doors (and Lewis’ personification of Alice’s internal monologue) and to the sea of tears she creates as she changes sizes. We commence to the White Rabbit’s home, meet the Caterpillar, visit with the Duchess, and eventually find ourselves at the Mad Tea Party and the Red Queen’s croquet game. Through the forest we transition to …Looking Glass,   meet the White Queen, Humpty Dumpty and finally the White Knight before returning to the beginning.

These vignettes are very true to the original source material, abbreviated, to give the essence of the story. There are many characters left out of the Manhattan Theatre Project’s version, but to present Alice… in its glorious entirety would take far more time than we have and, as we are not on first-name terms with Time, we have to settle for this much shorter adaptation.

I own at least five print editions of Alice/Looking-Glass, (two of which belonged to my grandfather—the 1898 edition is featured on Wikipedia’s Alice… page), half a dozen movies {including an amazing little sleeper called Dreamchild), a vinyl boxed recording and a copy of The Complete, Fully Illustrated Works. In addition to these, there are four theatrical versions in my script collection. As big a fan as I am of the original stories, TMP’s version comes closest to capturing the wild nonsense and sheer fun of the piece. I hope you will enjoy the production as much as I have.

Venue: Fort Fringe – Redrum – 612 L Street, NW, in Washington, DC.

Click on the following performances or purchase tickets online
Jul 15th 12:00 PM 
Jul 18th 8:30 PM
Jul 22nd 4:15 PM
Jul 26th 6:00 PM
Jul 27th 9:00 PM