Off the Wall’s thoroughly modern Alice
What a wild and wicked night for Off the Wall Theatre’s “Alice in Wonderland!”
Playwright Jeremy C. Welter directed an exceptionally talented cast in his own very contemporary update of Lewis Carroll’s 1865 classic. They fill Off the Wall’s little stage with insane energy.
Liz Mistele’s Alice — in her blue corset, net tutu and black and white harlequin stockings — is a little different. Alice shares her sordid story delving into drugs, male escorts and prostitution. Her Wonderland adventure begins when her “boss,” named Rabbit, throws her down a laundry chute into a cavernous basement.
What a lurid world Welter and technical director David Roper have made. Props and scenic design are minimal, but the costumes bring out the Goth, absurd and maniacal sides of Alice’s companions.
Anyone who has read the original Brothers Grimm fairy tales understands the dark and violent underside to supposed children’s fantasies. Some of that laces Carroll’s tales, and Welter does not shy from exposing human nature’s more perverse tendencies. Welter retained Carroll’s nonsensical literary themes, subversive punch and the rhymes and rhythms of his language — plus improvised vulgarities entirely appropriate to this very cynical Alice.
In Off the Wall’s twisted Wonderland, the Dodo explains to Alice during a race that runs in circles, “Life doesn’t hurt so much if you keep on running.” This is the pain Alice finally appreciates when she stands trial in the Queen of Hearts’ courtroom, a pain that may be more prominent in today’s cultures than when Carroll wrote this story over 100 years ago. The audience instinctively quiets their laughter after the verdict when Alice decides to wield the axe and says, “Off with their heads.”
This expressive line melds the fictional Wonderland to real modern madness. Welter’s irreverent and provocative theater piece resonates with eerie, uncomfortable truths absent from the Walt Disney version. Welter, for example, leaves you to ponder what Humpty Dumpty means when he tells Alice: “Cut through the madness and find the light.”
Off the Wall Theatre opened “Alice in Wonderland” Thursday (Feb. 3). It runs through April 3 at its storefront space Downtown at 127 E. Wells St. For tickets and information on the 90-minute production: call 414 327-3552 or visit the company’s website.