Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass are books that are near and dear to my heart, so I was quite pleased to discover Third Rail Projects' immersive theatrical experience Then She Fell, inspired by the books and Carroll's life. It had a run earlier this year, before a planned move to the South Street Seaport that was scuttled by Hurricane Sandy, so now they're back where they began, in the former Greenpoint Hospital in Brooklyn, extended through January 9th (a Seaport move is still planned for next year, once this run is over). Those familiar with downtown hit Sleep No More will know something of what to expect, though as only 15 people are allowed into the show at a time, this is a much more intimate, guided, and ultimately fulfilling experience.
The show is Directed, Designed and Choreographed by Zach Morris, with Tom Pearson and Jennine Willett. The former hospital lends the setting of a madhouse, but the creators wisely eschew the overdone trope of twisting Alice into a harsh and nightmarish world, and instead focus on moments of unsettling beauty and eerie fascination. There is certainly a powerful intensity and a hint of spookiness, but it thankfully doesn't overwhelm the quaint and charming.
As you enter, a kindly nurse informs you that there will be food (vegetarian) and drink (alcoholic, except for the tea), and not to speak unless spoken to. All the attendees are given a lanyard with a group of keys, some of which might open locked boxes throughout the labyrinth. A female doctor explains that we will be exploring the concept of the "liminal", that is, the state of being between states. Each of the three groups of five is then led into a different door, where differing experiences await them all. Group members are sometimes pulled away, each of them getting private one-on-one experiences with certain characters (Mine were with Alice, the White Rabbit, and Lewis Carroll). Tea is poured, pills are taken, books are examined, mirrors become windows, and a voyeuristic sense of sensuality is everpresent. Though sections of the show are sexually-charged, it is never crude; there was just a bit of skin (from one of the Alices and from the White Rabbit), enough to be titillating. The theme of lost and obsessed love predominates (as in the final chapters of Looking Glass).
The setup is ingenious, with thrice-repeated pieces of music (original by Sean Hagerty) over the course of two hours that only partway through I realized meant the same scenes I had seen were recurring elsewhere, with certain cues echoing through all the rooms, not fully understood till a later revelation- indeed I saw one episode repeated from a different angle, unseen by the participants, one of whom I had been previously. The choreographed puzzle of the formation is inspired, and would have made mathematician Dodgson proud.
The cast is wonderful and committed throughout. Elizabeth Carena as the Hatter, Alberto Denis as Lewis Carroll, Rebekah Morin as the Red Queen, Marissa Neilsen-Pincus as Alice, Tara O'Con as Alice, Tom Pearson as the White Rabbit, Jennine Willett as the White Queen, Stacie C. Fields and Katie Kavett as nurses, and Zoë Schieber and Zach Morris as Doctors. Costumes by Karen Young and Third Rail Projects are beautiful. Beverage consultant Sarah Sutel and Mixologist/Elixer Designer Kathy Hubler do great work. Food design by Megan Johnson and Leigh Friend is great.
All in all, it's a breathtaking theatrical experience. A familiarity with the works and life of Lewis Carroll (and not just the Disney) is not strictly necessary, but certainly helps immensely with understanding all the inside jokes and references (a Dormouse reference blew my mind). Highly recommended.
THEN SHE FELL runs through January 6, Tuesday–Sunday, two performances a night, at 7:30PM and 10:30PM. A complete schedule is at thenshefell.com. Arts@Renaissance is located at the Garden Level of the former Greenpoint Hospital, 2 Kingsland Ave (just off the Graham Avenue L stop in Greenpoint, Brooklyn). Tickets range from $95 - $105, available at www.thenshefell.com. Performances begin promptly and there is absolutely no late admittance. There are no refunds. Admittance is strictly limited to audience members over 21 years of age; all audience members must bring valid government-issued photo IDs. The performance lasts roughly 2 hours without intermission. Because of the immersive nature of this piece, audiences may be standing for several minutes at a time over the course of the performance. Audiences are encouraged to wear comfortable shoes. This performance is not recommended for audience members who are not comfortable standing, walking, or being alone.