Another ’Wonderland’? Elixer Productions Queer-up Alice
Disney came up with a memorable animated version in 1951-and more recently, former Disney animator Tim Burton put a CGI-heavy revisionist spin on it...but do we really need another telling of Lewis Carroll’s "Alice in Wonderland?"
Playwright Alex DeFazio and his colleagues are confident that we do-and in "Alice & The Bunny Hole," they seem to have come up with a unique LGBT take on the oft-told tale.
Let’s hope so. The pop culture landscape is already littered with far too many "Alice" adaptations that shift the focus away from her journey of (literal) growth and onto the silly, surreal world of Wonderland.
But one with a queer point-of-view? That appears to be the goal of New York- and New Jersey- based Elixer Productions.
In their mission statement, they plan to "develop plays and performances about gender, sexuality, and the impact of sexual identity on society, human relationships, and the self. Made from equal parts tradition and experimentation, we aim to create uniquely queer experiences that explore subversive forms of desire."
But the play is a departure for the company’s usual creative output.
"We’ve never done a comic show before," says DeFazio, "and ’Alice’ seemed like a really great vehicle. We wanted to play in a world that would be all about throwing sexuality into question...the idea that someone can identify as gay or straight; the idea that two people in love are sexually monogamous; the idea that two people are most capable of connecting when they’re just being themselves. So the play is a lot about finding fun and frivolity in your sex life, and your sexual identity."
Asked what the company saw in the "Alice" stories, DeFazio noted, "I always thought that the story was a queer story to begin with, in that it’s about someone transported into a very odd topsy-turvy world. And for the character in our play, this is a world of nontraditional sex and sexuality she’d never experienced before. So it’s kind of like a Wonderland. Our version is a story of sexual discovery...although the character doesn’t always feel in control of what she’s finding out."
No wonder. Once Elixir’s Alice travels down the rabbit hole, she finds "swinging twinks, height-altering cocktails, clues to mathematical mysteries of online matchmaking...a wonderland of fools, gogo boys, and one Black Bunny that scrambles her formulas."
Apart from the novelty of queer characters, the story further distinguishes itself from Carroll’s source material by having Alice make frequent trips between her world (a modern day New York, where she’s in a vanilla hetero relationship) and Wonderland.
"She’s going back and forth for the entire play," says DeFazio, "and trying to bring her boyfriend with her [to Wonderland]. He does not want it, and that’s ultimately what’s going to determine the end of the play."
The net effect, the playwright hopes, will cause audiences to further explore the virtues of "freeing yourself up. It’s very much about watching a character grow larger. That’s one aspect of the ’Alice’ books that was really useful to us...the idea that Alice is growing and shrinking. Whereas in the play, you have a character who just moved into a new environment and feels really dwarfed by the city. She doesn’t have much power or influence. Through the course of discovering things about herself and her sexuality, she starts to grow."
21st century sensibility
Shifting the story to modern day NYC instead of the original’s Victorian England allows Alice to, in Wonderland, meet a gay couple (the play’s equivalent of Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum) who, DeFazio says, "have this 21st century understanding of sexuality and intimacy. They’re non-monogamous and kinky. She’s kind of intrigued, especially since her own relationship is very static and boring to her."
This nice queer couple sets Alice on a journey, during which she finds "all this amazing stuff. She really wants to bring it to her own relationship, but [her partner] might not be able to take it."
As for other familiar Wonderland characters, the White Rabbit is a Black Bunny who runs an underground club where much of the play’s action takes place. The Hatter is an older man (in his 40s!) who presides over the action as a mad host-and in a further break from tradition, the Queen of Hearts has, DeFazio says, "been turned into a mute go-go boy: The Prince of Hearts. It would be kind of obvious, having that character marching around the stage and calling for people to have their heads chopped off. I thought it would be more interesting if the person who had all the power didn’t say anything."
While the play’s villain remains mute, one supposes that Alice will emerge from her time in Wonderland with enough curiosity and empowerment to broaden her sexual horizons. It’s a hope DeFazio has for the audience as well.
"I think the risk in accepting whatever notion of your sexual self that you’d see from the outside world," he says, "is that you never really have an opportunity to figure out if those things are representative of who you are. Personally, I know a lot of us who are LGBT know what it’s like to live a portion of our lives not being honest with ourselves about who we are-and I think most of us also know how freeing it is when we start to live as a truer version of ourselves."
"Alice & The Bunny Hole" takes place Mon. Aug. 13 at 8pm; Thurs., Aug. 16 at 4:15pm; Fri., Aug. 17 at 4pm; Sat., Aug. 18 at 9pm; and Fri., Aug. 24 at 4:15pm. At La MaMa (first floor theater), 74A E. Fourth St. (btw. 2 Ave. & Bowery). For tickets ($15 in advance), visit fringenyc.org. Tickets are $18 at the door.