Adaptations of Lewis Carroll's 1865 novel Alice's Adventures in Wonderland are legion, and allusions in pop culture innumerable; with its barely concealed drug references, the story became particularly popular in the far-out '60s, most famously with Jefferson Airplane's psychedelic hit "White Rabbit." The latest riff on the tale, from multimedia theater troupe Anonymous Ensemble, incorporates live rock, simultaneous video projection, clowning, acrobatics, and modern dance to tell the tale of 34-year-old Alice, a frustrated administrative assistant who's watching her dreams of fame fade away.
Called A Wonderland, the spectacle begins with lonely, desperate Alice belting out a tinny, confessional torch song in front of a red curtain at the "Riverbank Cafe" open mic night. Dosed by a transvestite, she follows a sassy drag queen called "Blanche duBunny" into Wonderland, as he cranks out a raunchy song with such lyrics as "slide into my hole." The curtain falls away and Alice stumbles upstage through the looking glass, where she's suddenly famous for hosting a talk show. Unfortunately, she hasn't a clue what to do on the air, and so she wanders listlessly around Wonderland, which resembles nothing so much as the last throes of a debauched warehouse rave. The Mad Hatter is a bearded, drugged up hipster; the Cheshire Cat is a rope dancer; and the Queen towers over all on enormous stilts.
None of this is very novel, and almost all of the songs drag on for too long; it's a bad sign when a singer's announcement that "this song has four parts" fills you with dread. Some of the theatrical elements are imaginative, such as the Caterpillar, evoked Bunraku puppet style with those neon Hoberman Spheres. And the big, enthusiastic ensemble gives really it their all, from the band blasting upstage to the lunging, well-toned dancers. But Alice's adult meanderings through Wonderland lack a compelling narrative hook, and the neo-burlesque, multi-media aesthetic isn't quite fresh enough to compensate. For all its gender-bending, punk-circus theatrics, this rabbit hole doesn't run very deep, and feels pretty familiar.
A Wonderland was presented as part of Soho Think Tank's six week Ice Factory '09 Festival, which continues this week at the Ohio Theater with The Aztec Economy's Lavaman.