Theater Review: 11th Hour Ensemble's Alice

There’s a new theater piece called Alice, premiering tonight at the Theatre of Yugen, 2840 Mariposa Street in San Francisco (running September 9th through 19th), directed and “imagined” by Allison Combs. As a work of “movement theatre,” it’s about 60% interpretive dance and 40% dialogue, easily juggling different genres of theater with different types of music, and varying levels of seriousness & silliness.

Alice, in her traditional blue outfit but played by a leggy adult actor/dancer (Megan Trout), is already exhausted on the stage when the audience is allowed to enter. (“Is that Alice?” asked a young girl behind me, Alice having already silently begun her opening number while an usher noisily hobbled past her to turn off a loud fan & the audience settled in.) This Alice starts out with grown-up anxieties, obsessive-compulsively counting numbers, and reassuring herself repeatedly “okay, okay, okay.” In contrast to the wildness she’s about to encounter, we realize that her troubled state of mind at the beginning is her supposed normalcy.

Then, instead of a white rabbit, she is shaken from her routine by a single playing card falling from the sky. A tribe of five strange savages in rags starts to mess with her by taking her thru the mind-and-body-changing adventures of Wonderland, loosely inspired by the stuff that happens in Carroll’s book. (While Alice was exploring the corridor, before it really gets going, the child behind me declared “This is upsetting because it’s boring.”) Growing, shrinking, falling, mushrooms, being stuck in a house, scary forests, and all manner of psychedelic abstractions are created by the weird tribe with their flexible interlocking limbs, in extremely creative ways. Only using their bodies, a caterpillar sits on a mushroom, and when he sucks on one of their fingers, the whole mushroom inhales & exhales. It’s most fun during the wild dance numbers, with their very cool choreography; it drags a little during the dialog, which like so many Alice in Wonderland adaptations, is always a lot less clever than Carroll’s original. For some reason, their amazing Cheshire Cat, very feline & Kabuki-ish, stuck closer to Carroll’s words, and was consequently much more powerful.

After Alice has gone native, a new square-peg (named Lewis) also finds himself lost in Wonderland, and by this time Alice has already become one of the weird savages. Lewis’s unhappy anal-retention makes us realize what Wonderland is to these people: everything ‘other’ in American society. Their Wonderland is part hippie, part hipster, part Burning Man, part mushroom trip, totally gay, multi-cultural and sexy. It has games with no rules, self-examination, community, humor, and of course lots of dancing and singing. It’s also dirty. Uptight Lewis rejects it outright, and even Alice eventually wakes up. But she’s definitely dirtier than before her trip to Wonderland (“Is she dripping sweat?” asked the child behind me.)

1 comment to Theater Review: 11th Hour Ensemble’s Alice

  • Andrew Ogus

    I hate to type it, but the trailer looks like more interesting than the performance sounds like it was. Clever use of widespread San Francisco locations, just like most movies set here