4 Stars out of 4
Audiences today are seeking more interactive experiences: escape rooms, theatre events like Windy City Playhouse’s Southern Gothic, and now for brave and mobile theatre goers we have the Upended Productions Alice project, which takes audiences all around Main Street businesses in Evanston for reinterpreted chapters of Alice in Wonderland, while utilizing the talents of multiple local arts organizations into a seamless production. Curated by Noelle Krimm, it is a singular environmental theatre experience perfect for fall.
The adventure begins in the back of an insurance agency after you receive your name tag: we are all Alice. You are ushered into an area filled with interactive art pieces: a robe with pockets and a table with clocks and tiny letters from the White Rabbit (all artwork is available for purchase) You are told wait for and follow your tour guide: mine was the French Rabbit, soulfully played by John Gregorio. Having overheard other guides, it is quite possible to return to this experience again and get a different type of experience based solely on your guide. Our Rabbit handed us tiny folded papers we were to hold until the end of the show, and then he mused on the nature of reality, of Truth and Lies. And then we are off. This is not a passive take it in audience experience: audience members hustle down the street and duck into neighborhood spots like Sketchbook Brewing’s back room where the nervous Mouse( a tightly would Kevin Alves from the Factory Theatre) leads us through games with Risha Hall and Jermain Thomas in a poncho who we all squirt with water, then down the stairs where Neo Futurist theatre regular David Kodeski tells you his dreams (on other days you may run into Chad the Bird) Next we hustle to the Main Street Magazine stand where the exquisite Kara Roseborough of the Fleetwood Jourdain Theatre asks us who we really are on pointe. Then out the door and around the corner to an alley where the Chesire Cat (Michael Ross) sits us down to watch a film on a screen in the back of a mini van. Then up the stairs to the Metra Station where the mad tea party with actual tea is served with much glitter by members of the Show Party esemble. At last we head to meet the Red Queen down main street in the the plant and art store Cultivate. The Queen played by “queer, quirky and quixotic” Quinn of SADHAUS is everything you thought a Red Queen might be. We are then sent down a narrow staircase into a strange classroom where pint sized members of Mudlark Theater teach an odd class in SeaOgraphy and give us our marks: mine was Mark Wahlberg. Then out the back door and through a parking lot to a back patio where we are treated to the 80’s styling of Laura McKenzie: I want the song on my Ipod. She notes that Life is a Trigger Warning. But no time to linger as we rush down the street where they have been waiting and waiting to frame us for stealing the tarts, and the Ten of spades accomplishes a coup and threatens us all. The Ace of Spades rushes us to safety into the street where we pass a woman drinking an oversized goblet of Koolaid while telling someone on her cell phone to call Lewis or call Carol. We end in a bookstore where at last the French Rabbit asks us to take out our folded papers and find out which of us is real. Naturally we all are. And he is not, so he goes out the door and disappears. We get a goody back of discounts from all the local business and head on our way to marinate over what we have lived through.
This work was deeply moving and very timely for me: both for the idea that we live in a time where truth and lies, reality and unreality are so fluid and questionable, and also for moments that struck me to my core, as when my tea pourer under the table seemed to lapse into dementia: I have been dealing all week with that issue in my home. I cried at her efforts. And Roseborough’s speech and McKenzie’s song about identity were a more effective questioning than an hour in therapy. There is so much in this Alice, so many senses engaged, you will want to see it more than once. And it is the kind of work that mingles with who you are and where you are at to resonate far beyond being 90 minutes of exploring a neighborhood with artists.
This is not a theatrical experience for the mobility challenged: there are stairs and fast walking. It was difficult for my hearing challenged partner to hear in some of the spaces but the visual aspect of the show made it compelling even without the words. Because the weather is an uncredited performer in the show, we lucked out with a superstar day which made getting to know the nooks and crannies of this charming neighborhood a delight. While there are a few mature jokes, the show is rated for 6 and up, and the youngsters in my group appeared to be enthused about the entire experience.
Alice is playing Saturdays and Sundays through October 21, 2018 starting at LaCapra State Farm Office, 829 Chicago Avenue in Evanston. Tours start every 15 minutes beginning at 1pm and last tour leaves at 2pm. For tickets and information go to www.UpEndedProductions.com .