Saturday, April 16, 2011

Theatre review: The Alice Project at CMU. Sunday, 17th April 2011

We have another ongoing theatre piece called a “project,” The Alice Project at CMU. This takes Lewis Carroll’s, as fully titled, Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There and goes into a fascinating, multi-prismed exploration of the many surfaces and dimensions of fractured activities and memorable characters Alice finds in a second fantasy world, having escaped unharmed from Wonderland.

It’s called a project because different perspectives come from collaboration among The CMU School of Drama’s graduate designers, undergraduate directors, graduate dramatic writing students and present acting students as directed by faculty member Marianne Weems.

With so many elements merging you may wonder how this can clearly lead anywhere. Well, it doesn’t. After stating that an intention is to find out who Alice really is, that destination is never reached. Nor does any meaningful interpretation come across as to the potential symbolisms and deeper meanings of Carroll’s concept. Yet, the longer you watch the less that matters.

As The Alice Project gets curioser and curioser, the adventure stays wonderfully creative and alive with visual effects, as if the designers have taken over to make this their project while all the other collaborators came along for the brilliant and dynamic ride. Clearly they’ve all agreed to make the most of modern technology, including live cameras, non-stop projections and soundscapes of various kinds. That creates an always vivid stage environment equally alive with actors swiftly moving into and out of multiple roles, including several playing Alice. Everyone climbs ladders to ascend into or descend from stacked box-like frames wherein to skillfully play out various scenes, like children in a massive playground making new discoveries while playing well with others. These kids, however, are old enough that, sometimes, they needlessly throw in street language which Carroll would never have used; he aimed to reach far more innocent youngsters. But then the script does not stick to the original text, nor intend to.

Director Weems writes that Through the Looking Glass “does not follow a straight line across a chessboard; the story is only the skeleton” that the details do not have to fit. Right. You learn where she wants to go. But I wonder what Lewis Carroll would have thought seeing what has happened to his ideas. He might admire how it all looks and sounds, including some original music. I do. And Carroll might wonder what is the purpose of thus deconstructing his highly original, distinctive tale. A tale which has a lot to offer on its own. Weems says this is “ample room to play.” Yes, I’d say that the participants in this fantasy probably are having a good time. Certainly, being students, they are also learning modern disciplines of interpretation and movement to serve future professional careers, especially in experiments which could resemble this.

For those of us outside the frame, we can marvel at the brilliant visual elements so much so that we needn’t think about what it all means or even if it has to mean something. Weems tell us what she thinks. Maybe afterwards, you might want to ponder her interesting thesis. But maybe too, it doesn’t matter, because what you see is a kind of wonderland. And that’s worth the trip.

The Alice Project continues through April 23rd at Philip Chosky Theatre on campus at CMU, Oakland. School of Drama box office: 412/ 268-2407

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