A genuine wonderland
Wandering Alice can best be described as a fantasy trip with dance and music. This work-in-progress, loosely based on the story of Alice in Wonderland, received one public performance on September 10 to elicit audience and critical feedback. (An extended run is planned for September 2008.) The audience was limited to 24 people— not out of snobbery, but for space reasons— and included artistic leaders of other Philadelphia theater companies and playwright/performer Bill Irwin. Apparently I was the only journalist invited.
We entered a multi-story building– the Neighborhood House behind Christ Church in Old City– where dangling vines and nature sounds introduced us to a world where Alice (dancer/choreographer Nichole Canuso) is our guide. As Alice leads the audience up the steep staircase to the building’s upper floors, the cast sings: "Is it unclear how you got here?"
Alice forgets her way and can’t remember the contents of a book she wrote, demonstrating how perishable is everything we know. This is the play’s subtext: the impermanence of our lives.
In one tiny space Alice meets an enigmatic man (played by Pig Iron’s co-founder Dito van Riegersberg) who apparently is the repository of everything Alice ever learned. In another scene, in one of the building’s larger rooms, Alice wades into water and we meet sea creatures.
We are accompanied by great sound effects and original music composed by James Sugg and Mike Kiley.
Each space reveals visual effects, screens and projections, as the cast mimes and dances. Going beyond that role, cast members speak directly with the audience, guiding us along the way. Their comments apparently are partly ad lib: "You look familiar," I heard one of the dancers say to Joe Canuso, who is the father of the show’s creator and happened to be in the audience.
Gently, the nine dancers pull audience members into the action, and we welcome their invitation because, in fact, we’re already swaying in synch with them and with the music. Sounds corny and 1960s, does it not? Yet it seems natural.
Although Wandering Alice is imaginative and superbly executed, it needs a bit more focus. But much of the show’s dream-world charm lies in its lack of logic. Even an abstemious onlooker wonders if, perhaps, its appeal would be even greater if one imbibed a mind-expanding substance.