The White Rabbit and the Red Queen in Then She Fell. Photo by Third Rail Projects.
As soon as you cross the threshold — Kingsland Ward, styled to resemble a shabby Victorian mental institution — the immersive experience of Third Rail Project’s Then She Fell launches.
Greeted by a terse nurse, you zig and zag down a dingy corridor to an office bedecked with old-fashioned medical paraphernalia. You mill about, slurping on a crimson cordial, as a white-coated doctor lectures you about liminality.
He’s managing your expectations. There will be nothing sensible, linear, or typical about the next two hours. If you came with a friend or spouse, you will get separated. Limited to only 15 tickets per performance, the experience is deeply individual.
Loosely inspired by Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and the (unsubstantiated) infatuation of Lewis Carroll with a prepubescent Alice Liddell, The She Fell smears the margins between audience and actors. Guests peek at characters exploring deeply personal moments. Using a two-way mirror — through the looking glass as it were — we spy on the Red Queen, drugging herself to staunch the desperation she feels at her waning beauty. Sometimes, we even become bit players in the action ourselves.
Things only get curiouser and curiouser.
Episodes assemble, dissolve, and reassemble like an ever-turning kaleidoscope. You attend a tea party with the Mad Hatter, take dictation for Lewis Carroll, paint snowy roses scarlet with the White Rabbit, sneak booze with Alice, and get tucked into bed by the White Queen. Occasionally, you are left alone, free to open file cabinets, read letters, and poke through an array of antique tchotchkes. Amuse-bouches, alcoholic elixirs, and thimbles of tea are offered as refreshments at various intervals.
A dance theater presentation, there are plenty of words, sometimes spoken directly to you. But the movement articulates the story. Unlike the traditional air-filled canvas of the stage, Kingsland Ward is a labyrinth of velvety parlors and sterile medical facilities. The small recesses existing between these physical structures act as a vacuum. Performers fit themselves into these cavities, twisting and tossing their bodies to expose their emotional state. Alice and Lewis Carroll walk up stairs sideways and body surf down in a depiction of their off-kilter romance while a melancholy Mad Hatter clambers and crouches atop a wardrobe like a wounded animal.
Third Rail Projects skips the nonsensical jabberwocky of the source material in favor of tightly wound character studies. Alice (there are two — a younger and older version) titters like a schoolgirl but accepts Carroll’s caresses with a teasing grace. The White Rabbit and the Red Queen share a twisted lust, revealed by a sensually tyrannical duet in which she shames him before succumbing to his kisses.
Duality — desire and despair, carnality and innocence, sumptuousness and sterility — fleshes out these familiar characters. Juxtaposition, between them and us, their pathos and our (relative) sanity, enhances the peculiarity. They are characters trapped in an absurdist, inescapable narrative, which we can and will leave. The performances are so convincing we forget that these dancers will depart for the banality of everyday life only minutes after us.
Then She Fell follows the same logic as a dream. The looping score by Sean Hagerty, groaning and creaking under a macabre melody, adds to the trance-like sensation. Dim, sometimes flickering, lights illuminate the fractured scenarios — sadly, you don’t get to see them all. Personal isolation, experienced by the loss of familiar faces and spaces, invokes the fuzzy feeling of a reverie.
Much like a dream, upon waking, you create your own meaning.
This review refers to the performance seen on Tuesday, September 24 at 10:30 pm.