Alice in Wonderland Puppet Festival
nytheatre.com review by Richard Hinojosa
September 21, 2007
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is all about inspiring imagination. Everyone has their own ideas as to what inspired some of the strange chapters of the story, so giving one chapter to a variety of different companies and having them do whatever they want with it is a brilliant basis for a show. Don't worry, none of the troupes crash into the side of the audience and explode. It was more like chaos...a controlled chaos...but just chaotic enough to make you feel relaxed and open to whatever happened next.
Three chapters are done short and simple by the Kamikaze Crew but the rest are created by various puppeteers and puppet companies. "The Pool of Tears" is done by Evan Lawrence. This piece boasts a great soundtrack and a really nice voice over. "A Caucus-Race and a Long Tale" is performed by Claire Beaudreault. This one boils down to Beaudreault playing with dolls but she does it with perfectly hip and childishly clear attitudes like something very simple that becomes high art because it mocks itself.
"Advice from a Caterpillar" was created by David Michael Friend and performed by Friend and Leslie Strongwater. This piece really put the hook in me for the rest of the show. Friend alternates from it being all about him and his partner on stage to telling the story as written and yet he never deviates from the story. It's really funny and his puppets are beautifully designed and animated.
"Pig and Pepper" is created and performed by Kate Brehm of imnotlost. This highly technical piece is among the most extraordinary. Brehm uses a video projector hooked up to a video camera, which combined act as an overhead projector. She has scrolling scenery and blown up cut-outs of the classical illustrations of Alice and the other characters on sticks. She moves them under the camera which projects them large behind her as she draws in new scenery and voices the characters. The Cheshire Cat pops in and out of slits in the paper, for example. The music is fantastic and Brehm is extremely imaginative. In this piece, it's as cool to watch the operation as it is the action.
"A Mad Tea Party" was created by Exploding Puppet Productions and performed by John Ardolino, James Walton, Scott Weber and Meghan Williams. It appears to be set in an Italian neighborhood in New Jersey. All the characters speak with thick accents, even Alice, and they seem to be improvising the dialogue. The puppets are small-bodied cloth cut-outs attached to the puppeteers' chests, with the puppeteers' real heads and hands (except for the dormouse, which is a little stuffed mouse toy on a stick). The puppets look pretty good though the piece seems to be more about the performers than the characters. Still, it's very funny and quite a unique look at the chapter.
"The Queen's Croquet Ground" is a short film created by Kristin Trabucco. I enjoyed the film—it captures the core of the chapter but it doesn't really capture the confusion, frivolity, and the nonsense. And it really didn't have much to do with puppets. "The Lobster-Qudrille" was created by Howie Leifer and performed by Leifer, Annie Dressner, and Sally Sockwell. The puppet design here is quite nice but the characterization does not live up to what it could be.
The final chapters, "Who Stole the Tarts" and "Alice's Evidence," were created by the Puppet State Player and performed by Colin Atrophy and Noah Apple Mayers. This piece is absolutely hilarious. It imagines that Vin Diesel wants to write a movie for kids but with lots of car chases and explosions. He goes to the library and discovers Alice in Wonderland but he decides to call it "Malice in Murderland." The Diesel voiceover is great and the dialogue is so funny. It's told partly with a scrolling scenery and partly through some puppets. The illustrations are well done but the puppet work is not as creative as the concept and dialogue, but still this is a great scene to end on.I had a great time at this show. It was loose and felt so much like a private performance. Drama of Works produced this and other shows in their Alice in Wonderland puppet festival. They also produce New York's only puppet slam, PUNCH Puppetry Cabaret, at Galapagos in Brooklyn. I'm not sure what's involved in a puppet slam but I wanna find out.
Curiouser and Curiouser
When we grew up we were told that Lewis Carroll, the creator of Alice in Wonderland, was obsessed with Alice and may have even been a pedophile. There goes the innocence, kid. Thankfully, Drama of Works still has their innocence. And they remind us that we do too.
If you're looking for the answer to the Lewis Carroll question it's not here, but this production takes a look at his diary as well as Alice's memoirs. It weaves together these texts and also real snapshots taken by Carroll of Alice, poems of his turned into songs, and fragments of Wonderland. Carroll's real name was Charles Dodgson and we see two sides of the man as both Dodgson and Carroll are characters in this play. Alice is represented by both a person and a puppet and Carroll and Dodgson wear white suits as they lead her through silly games and scenes from Wonderland but there's always a snap-back to something a little more serious and sad.
The play only touches on the real story, but it relates moments of the real to episodes in Wonderland very effectively. It explores the two sides of an extraordinarily creative man who loves the innocence and pure imagination of childhood and yet is forced to face certain realities. This play reminds us that we never truly lose our innocence and there is always a place to go where life can be what you make it.
The puppeteer/actors Amy Carrigan, Talaura Harms, Adam Sullivan, Ben Sulzbach, and Meghan Williams turn the most unlikely objects into puppets—a playing card, a handkerchief, even a sewing table. Sullivan and Sulzbach are great as the Carroll/Dodgson duo and Carrigan is quite enchanting as Alice. They all work together so smoothly and always make the most out of their object/puppets.
Designer/director Gretchen Van Lente fills this production with ingenuity and vitality and yet she balances it with somber, honest moments. Her design is well thought out. The set is brown on the sides and white down the middle pointing toward the projection screen. The costumes look great and so does Jeanette Yew's lighting. This production gives us a lot to look at and listen to but still manages to leave a lot of things up to your imagination.
Van Lente also adapted the script. I particularly enjoyed the way she connects passages from Carroll's diary to chapters in Wonderland, such as the trial scene with his estrangement from Alice's family. Some of it is abstract but I didn't get lost. I wondered if she was going to delve deeper into his life and the myth of insidious behavior but the script has other goals. The story has nothing that a kid shouldn't see and I think some kids might enjoy the show.
Drama of Works does an excellent job focusing on their subjects, whether those subjects be real people or characters or puppets, they find the core and bring it out. This show brought out some innocence in me. It'll do the same for a part of everyone.