Matthew Woods and the Imaginary Beasts are at it again, turning their wild imaginations loose, this time with ALICE IN WONDERLAND (playing until April 23rd). Woods works by finding a departure point, then runs round, over and through it until a cohesive whole lands at the BCA fully, fantastically, formed. This means weeks and weeks with the company, experimenting until the material has worked its way into their DNA… which is why the Beasts are unequaled in ensemble performance.
For this production, Woods uses the historical 1970 Andre Gregory version of ALICE as a baseline, concentrating as Gregory did, on the raw physicality of the Carroll stories, eschewing the cloying, popular Disney version. Woods and company stress Alice’s trepidation as she faces the unknown and the downright horrifying. You can’t hear the Red Queen’s irrational edict these days and not cringe. “Off with his head” used to be funny before ISIS. It’s not anymore.
The Imaginary Beasts’ ALICE is as inventive and witty as all their creations are but it’s not a walk in the park. There’s a dark, dangerous edge that underscores the familiar story. You’ll recognize the adventures but you’ll have pause. Cameron Cronin’s precarious Humpty Dumpty is nastier than you recall. (Dumpty even quotes Trump’s “They love me.” And you know he doesn’t care that it’s a lie.) William Schuller’s Mad Hatter, poor fellow, has ingested so much mercury that he’s tied into a straightjacket. (When he’s the rabbit, the ties of Cotton Talbot-Minkin’s ingenious costume become his long, floppy ears.)
Woods says he wants to make the story “relevant to today.” Well, you can’t get any more relevant these days than threat of violence. “Beware the Jabberwock… the jaws that bite, the claws that catch” wasn’t taken literally in less perilous times but it is now. Even Kiki Samko’s Cheshire Cat has a demonic side. And drowning in a sea of tears? Not so whimsical. Perhaps the story always has been dark and we just didn’t notice. (Carroll’s fascination with little girls is pretty creepy. Years ago parents didn’t delve into his private life. Now they make films about it.)
Thank heaven for the lighter moments in the Beasts’ production: Amy Meyer’s cheery persistence in the face of adversity; Michael Chodes’ upended, soporific dormouse; Cronin’s cheeky, condescending Frog Footman; Samko’s adorably twitchy lady mouse; Talbot-Minkin’s endlessly pleasing costumes (which appear sooty and distressed for this brooding version). You’ll be amazed at the transformation of ordinary objects, like hoops for the rabbit hole and trash bags transformed into billowy clouds by Christopher Bocchairo’s lighting.