Internal Editor Vivian Zhou and Staff Writer Daniel Ortega-Venni took a trip down the rabbit hole to see Alice in Wonderland put on by Columbia Blue Gaze Theater. This is what they thought.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is a timeless tale that has been told and retold in various forms over the ages and it is the story that the Columbia Blue Gaze Theatre group decided to use in its newest performance. Presented in the Glicker-Milstein Theatre at Barnard, the show made an elaborate use of East-Asian influenced costumes and set pieces in an attempt to put a new spin on the story we all know and love.
The play itself was largely faithful to the book: the play is kicked off with the appearance of the frenzied White Rabbit (Xifan Wang), who is quickly followed by Alice (Kiki Lee Gonglewski) onstage. Now lost and without a way to get home, she hounds the rabbit through Wonderland and meets a multitude of characters: the dismissive Duchess (Ezgi Yildiz), the grinning Cheshire Cat (Keira Han), the aloof caterpillar (Victoria Yang) and, of course, the ridiculous Mad Hatter (Tianhao Lu) and the March Hare (Bingcong Zhu)–though the Doormouse (Xingrong Chen) was perhaps the spotlight-stealer. The play also utilized elements of the sequel – Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There – to help fill the hour, giving us such humorous characters as Humpty Dumpty (Iris Cai, who did an excellent job playing the stubborn character), Tweedle Dum (Tianhao Lu) and Tweedle Dee (Bingcong Zhu) and the flowers in the flower garden. The strongest performance of the entire play was by Hailun Zhou as Queen of Hearts. She captured the personality of the queen perfectly– unreasonable yet highly respected. What was different about this play was that amidst all this madness, Alice finds herself being shadowed by a girl who looks strangely like herself, a development which reaches its climax in the trial at the end when both Alices are present. The play ends with this second Alice “waking up” from the dream, leaving the original Alice’s fate undetermined.
The most peculiar aspect of the production was the transitions. The set was pretty well-made, including a house, some bamboo shoots to represent the forest, and an extensive display of food for the Mad Hatter’s tea party. The set changes lasted an incredibly long time and were really awkward as they had the characters of the show move tables around. The strangest part about the transitions was that instead of doing it in blackout like standard theatre productions, they did set changes with the lights on. Not only were they incredibly long but having the characters do set changes meant that the audience saw the costumes before the characters wearing them were supposed to be on stage. This took away from the surprise factor of the next scene. The set was really well made but it felt a little excessive for an hour-long play.
Nevertheless, the costumes for the show were very intricate and well thought out and, compared to other student theatre shows, it had a lot of attention to detail. The group paper machéed the rabbit head for the White Rabbit character, made a hat with 3 layers of hats for the Mad Hatter, and did intricate face painting for characters like the Cheshire Cat. What was even more impressive was that many actors were portraying multiple characters, so in between scenes they had to go backstage and changed into an equally impressive costume. The set was also quite impressive, especially the scene of the Mad Hatter tea party and the queen’s garden. For the tea party, all types of pastries were brought out, including a three-tier afternoon tea set. It was unclear whether or not the food was real, but it definitely made the audience quite hungry. Finally, for the queen’s garden, there were white rose bushes and the actors held paintbrushes dipped in red paint, and in the scene were “painting” the roses red.
However, the play struggled with its promise to “align [Alice’s] adventure with the East-Asian/Asian-American experience here in the US.” Apart from the bizarre look alike, there was not much deviation from the plot so it felt more like a retelling rather than a reimagining. The only aspects of “East-Asian/Asian-American experience” were the costumes for the scene in the garden when Alice was talking to the talking flowers and the fact that the cast was mainly made up of Asians.
Ultimately, however, it was an interesting play with a captivating cast of characters and use of costumes and we hope that this isn’t the last we’ll see of these creative adaptations.