Fall 2010 Guide: Remixing Wonderland

Brendan Shea discusses the creation of Alice vs. Wonderland.

The Alice of my generation is older than Lewis Carroll’s— she’s a teenager, facing the terrors of adulthood. A teenage Alice today dreams differently from Carroll’s seven-year-old Victorian girl. Her Wonderland needed remixing.

In Alice vs. Wonderland, the basic structure of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland remains, a series of encounters between Alice and a gallery of Wonderland oddballs. Each of the wacky characters Carroll created plays a role in her journey to adulthood. They are obstacles to Alice’s self-realization. In order to progress, she must either defeat or evade them. The clash reminded me of a video game, hence, Alice vs. Wonderland. Video games provide dreams on demand. The player explores a strange world, masters its rules and accomplishes the impossible. Carroll’s narrative structure is familiar to anyone who grew up with Super Mario or Mega Man—a grab bag of surreal episodes, each with a puzzle to solve or an enemy to defeat. In Carroll’s Alice, each of Alice’s adversaries represents a pressure of Victorian life. To make them fit my pop Alice, I had to revamp them. Tweedledee and Tweedledum look as if they stepped off the set of Mean Girls.

János Szász, Hungarian theater and film director, brought his distinct style to Alice vs. Wonderland, remixing the remix. The A.R.T.’s 2009 production of The Seagull epitomized the Szász aesthetic: raw, dark, brooding, and extremely physical. Szász found the nightmare in Alice’s teen-angel dream. The production holds nightmare and dream in anxious balance. Alice journeys to adulthood along a razor’s edge.

When Alice enters Wonderland, she becomes fragmented, unfixed, free to be anything or anyone. "I know who I was when I woke up this morning," Alice tells the Caterpillar, "but I must have been changed several times since then." Over the course of the play, Alice does change several times—she’s portrayed by six different actresses. Each evokes a different aspect of adolescence: rebellion against authority; self-destruction; the mysteries of sex. Together, they paint a surreal portrait of a teenage identity crisis.

Teenage angst drives Alice’s journey through Wonderland. Lewis Carroll tells a story about a girl who is either too large or too small to do what she wants to do. As she struggles to control her changing body, the most inconvenient of questions badgers her: "Who are you?" It’s enough to drive anyone to dye her hair purple and wallow in malaise. Leaving childhood behind is not an easy nor happy journey through Wonderland, but a struggle against it.

Brendan Shea is the author of Alice vs. Wonderland and a 2010 graduate of the A.R.T./MXAT Institute for Advance Theater Training
at Harvard University. He is currently the Artistic/Dramaturgy Fellow at the A.R.T.

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