- I'm not quite sure what to make of this one. I have mixed feelings because there's a lot that I like about this play and production, but it also leaves a lot to be desired. However, overall, I agree with this article that says, "even if [ALICEGRACEANON]'s only intermittently successful, it's consistently intriguing."
- Upon entering the ginormous space of the Irondale Center, the set and surrounding installations seem awe-inspiring and epic. But, as you approach the installations, talk to the "Spectacle Brigade" (the chorus), and generally interact, you realize everything's kinda crappy and haphazard. Unfortunately, those elements bled into the show itself, as well.
- Right away when Grace Slick (Carolyn Baeumler) begins rocking out with her backup band, the Tuned-In incognito as Jefferson Airplane, a couple of Spectacle Brigadiers pretend to be late 60s-esque go-go dancers. Too bad they didn't have the full technique. They looked like a couple of middle schoolers trying out "the swim" at their semi-formal. There is a lot of skill required to pull off period dance, and this half-assery is just one example of many throughout the production. It put the show into a mediocre start for me, even though Baeumler herself was very alluring. She definitely had the essential qualities of "rockstar" that her character required.
- Basically everything in the beginning is a mess. The three threads of 'Alice in Wonderland,' 'White Rabbit,' and 'Go Ask Alice' make for a BRILLIANT concept. I anticipated more cohesion in the overlapping of the threads. The show is meant to have the feeling of a 60s happening, but the improvised nature of a happening doesn't mean the whole thing should be chaos. Only pieces of ALICEGRACEANON are actually improvised anyway, the pieces which interact with the audience, which are, thankfully, few.
- I say again, I was looking for cohesion, which really isn't a thing to look for in this piece. The chaotic overlap of the threads is one thing, but the characters themselves are major icons, and I couldn't follow the rules of their existence. Alice (Teresa Avia Lim) is a fictional character and the real person Lewis Carroll based the character on, Alice Liddell. Anonymous (Christina Pumariega) is entirely fictional although presented as a real "troubled teen" by her inventor, Beatrice Sparks. Anonymous is a sort of Pinocchio looking to become real. The play refers to her as a "Pinocchio with a pink purse." Grace Slick was a real rockstar. Grace and Anon seemed to stick to their icons, I think, but Alice was given bizarre and contemporary lines, like "I'm so fucked." I don't get it.
- Again everything before the pause marking the next act or section was really hard to follow. It felt like playwright Kara Lee Corthron didn't want us to follow anything, although the production made us follow a path before entering the seating area. Alice and Anon are both characters who go on journeys, and eventually they and Grace go on a journey together in this play, but I just couldn't make any sense of the beginning. It was sort of an 'Alice in Wonderland' reenactment mixed with a 'Go Ask Alice' reenactment mixed with a Jefferson Airplane concert, and all of it is one happening. Except it's not that at all. Huh?
- Eventually, Alice quits her own story, the show stops, and a ton of paper bits get tossed on the audience from above. I thought it was kind of fun. Happenings like to do things like that, pretend to stop in the middle and get "real." Having shit dumped on you takes a lot of patience as an audience member. Looking around, some people giggled and thought it was cute. I did. But the guy next to me was totally not having it. Okay, so after that happens, some chorus boy Spectacle Brigadier pops on stage to sing a random song. It felt like a space filler and really out of place.
- What I suppose was an intermission was the pause between sections of the play. It was an awkward, time consuming set change that strikes the band at the same time. The audience just sat and watched and waited for the Spectacle Brigade to quit futzing with bits of crap that covered up other bits of crap on the unfinished-looking stage. When they come back, there's a line, "What the hell was that?" No shit. Grace adds, "What is going on?" You tell me. Alice says to Grace, "Please stop talking. Everything you say is absolutely horrifying." Pretty much.
- The good thing about the second bit is that it finally almost comes together. The characters even start speaking in unison at one point. Grace suggests that Alice is "really committed to her narrative," which apparently "takes balls," but I don't know how committed any of the characters are to anything.
- That article I linked at the top describes the play as "an amorphous purgatory where [the characters] must remain until they've managed to work up the gumption to stand up to the men in their lives." I think that critic was also looking for some cohesive piece of something to hold onto, but I don't think that's an accurate description of the play. I mean, Alice stands up to Lewis Carroll and Grace stands up (I guess?) to Paul Kantner (Matt Dellapina), but what about Anon? Anon has several run-ins with her creator, Beatrice Sparks (also Dellapina). Sparks, however, is played by Dellapina in church lady drag, a clearly comedic and insulting gag. It got laughs alright, especially when Ms. Sparks' wig is removed, Dellapina lowers his voice into a scary man growl to prove he is male. This, I would assume, is a directorial choice on the part of Kara-Lynn Vaeni, and this shock gag device happened more than once, as if even one time was necessary. It makes sense to me for Alice to confront Lewis Carroll, her author, just as Anon confronts her author... but Alice confronts Carroll as Alice Liddell, not the Alice of the stories. But none of this has relevance to Grace who has no author, unless that's Paul Kantner, but I don't know enough about Jefferson Airplane to know that, and that kind of info wasn't clearly established in the text. If it was, I was too busy being distracted by all the rest of the eyegasms in the production.
- Corthron's voice comes through when somewhere in the play somebody describes Alice as the "best female protagonist ever written." I'm curious why Corthron included characters like the Cheshire Cat and the Caterpillar (which, by the way, was inventively staged with all the bodies of the Spectacle Brigade as segments of the Caterpillar), but chose to eliminate the Queen of Hearts, arguably THE MOST POWERFUL WOMAN IN ALL OF WESTERN LITERATURE, and certainly an equally ferocious antagonist to Alice's gumption-laden protagonist.
- Good and bad highlights:
Good: Pumariega's ability to climb the set like a giant playground monkey bars.
The best moment of the show was Pumariega tumbling in the air through the Spectacle Brigade while saying lines! Difficult and very nicely done!
Baeumler and Dellapina's scenes together as Grace and Paul. The chemistry was actually nice, and spoke to me as the most accessible moments in the show.
Bad: Sound problems - Grace's mic went out.
Costume malfunctions - Alice's dress basically fell off (although actors found smart moments to try and fix it during the show).
Dangerous and half-finished looking set pieces - a turn-table that almost tossed some folks off and a really steep-looking staircase ON WHEELS. (That can't be good.) Platforms without safety barriers. Things like that. I was constantly worried somebody would take a tumble.
- Eventually the show ended with the high energy concert vibe it started with. And even though I was, like Alice in Wonderland, lost along the way, by the end I was glad for the journey.
- Props to New Georges for the epic scope of producing the unproduceable and giving so many opportunities to women in theatre.