So, Arrie Fae Bronson-Davidson, the transgendered female actor/choreographer/writer/director, had her work cut out tackling Carroll’s witty books and twisting them to her own agenda.
Sorry to say, she came up a bit short. Her take on the source material, called Wonder/Through the Looking Glass Houses at Dixon Place (the site for innovative works for and by the LGBT community) tries awfully hard to be different and meaningful to modern open-minded audiences, but it meanders, most particularly during Arrie’s self-indulgent, autobiographical monologues that punctuate the work. It is too long and heavy handed, but also visually impressive, beautifully performed, full of campy shtick, seasoned with ballet-styled choreography and a parade of sensational costumes, makeup, wigs and scenery, not to mention nudity.
Arrie, a rather chunky, plucky and chronically complaining White Rabbit, hosted the evening, guiding his Alice (a lovely, but not particularly energetic Cecily McCullough) through mazes and confrontations to achieve what proved to be a hard-won Queen-dom.
Alice’s journey introduces her to the other characters, familiar from Carroll, yet far less innocent here: Cheshire Puss (Dara Swisher, whose big smile was perfect); the Butterfly, a Pink Flamingo and the Red Queen in the Chess Game finale (Chloe Markewich whose energy never flagged); the Mad Hatter, another Pink Flamingo and Tweedle (Brittany Posas, a compact, witty performer); March Hare, another Pink Flamingo and Tweedle (Meghann Bronson-Davidson, also witty, particularly when matched with Mr. Posas’ Tweedle); plus an S & M Queen of Hearts played with pizzazz and a babydoll insouciance by the bigger than life Miss Cherry Delight.
The final sections of this theater/dance work were more effective than the earlier scenes and they included a game show knockoff call “The Price is Right to Be a Queen,” a rigged quiz show which included rather strained audience participation. (Throughout the work the performers zipped into and out of the audience, touching, tweaking and grabbing surprised theatergoers!). The famous “Chess Match” led directly to a totally naked, well choreographed pile-up of bodies reaching for a shiny crown, just out of reach. When Alice grabbed the crown it had a real feeling of triumph.
Arrie used many sources of music including David Bowie, Patti LaBelle, Radiohead, Jefferson Airplane (“Just Ask Alice,” of course!), Donna Summer, Tom Waits & Dave Matthews.
The very detailed and smart costumes were by Lori Gassie and the constantly changing bits and pieces of the set were created by the two Bronson-Davidsons. Rob Lariviere’s light might have been brighter, but the Dixon Place space isn’t a large room, so everything was quite visible.
Arrie’s campy, casual performance clashed with the discipline of all-female cast. What exactly she wanted to say via Carroll’s creation is unclear, but, there still is much to savor and laugh at.
Wonder/Through the Looking Glass-Houses (through December 17, 2016)
Dixon Place, 161A Chrystie Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, visit http://www.dixonplace.org
Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission