dream child: the trial of alice in wonderland, written and performed by Roxanne Fay. Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman.
"Storybook children do not fade."
"I'm not very good at it. . .being Alice," says the elderly Alice Pleasance Liddell Hargreaves, Lewis Carroll's ostensible inspiration for Alice in Wonderland. In the new one-woman play 'dream child: the trial of alice in wonderland" now being seen at the Bridge Street Theatre in Catskill, New York, Alice is on the Berengaria in 1932 headed for New York City to be part of the Columbia University centenary celebration of Lewis Carroll's birth. She is unsure about her place at such a meeting, uneasy about questions that may arise about her and her place in Carroll's work. She looks at herself periodically in the mirror and finds that the girl she was is no longer in evidence. She is a woman now, a woman of mystery and without the interest in answering the questions she has heard all of her life.
Roxanne Fay as Alice Liddell; photo: John Sowle
Alice Liddell was, we are told, and have been told for eons, the inspiration for Carroll's heroine of two major books, Alices Adventures in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking-Glass. Queen Victoria's favorite author wrote more than these two books, however. He also authored the novel Sylvie and Bruno, The Hunting of the Snark, Journal of a Tour in Russia in 1867, dozens of short stories, more poems and essays, Games and Acrostics, and even a published address to children. In the latter he says "And now, dear children, I want you to promise me that you will each one try, every day, to do some loving act of kindness for others. . .Last week is gone for ever; this week will be quite different." It is possible that this thought crossed his mind as he watched Alice Liddell and her siblings play while he created his stories about a girl, a rabbit hole and a world so different from his own.
"Alice" was first published in 1862 and then in its final form in 1865. In both books Alice Liddell is assumed to be the model for Carroll's character. Little hard proof exists although the circumstantial evidence is pretty certain. In this play Alice Liddell, whose youthful friendship with Math Professer Charles Dodgson (the real occupation and name for Lewis Carroll) is clearly established, her contention that she is not really Alice is borne out in some ways and not in others. The real mystery, not fully addressed in this play, is what the extent of Carroll's interest in the girl might have been. Shortly after the first book - Alice's Adventures Underground - was published, the Liddell family broke off their friendship with the author. It has been long believed that he developed a romantic interest in eleven-year-old Alice and that this was the cause of the rift. It is also believed that his actual interest was in the family nanny. Little is truly known.
Roxanne Fay, who works for the Salvador Dali Museum in Orlando, Florida, created this work to accompany a recent exhibit there of Dali's work with Walt Disney, particularly around his 1951 film version of Alice in Wonderland. Possessor of the original manuscript of ...Underground Liddell sold it off to pay her ongoing debts after she was widowed and finally saw it again at the Columbia University celebration. She was eighty years old at the time (of this play) and she died two years later, the secrets of her friendship with the author dying with her.
Alice Liddell as photographed by Lewis Carroll, 1858
Fay is a decent actress, but could benefit in this performance from the input of a stage director. No one is credited here. Her accent is marginally British but mostly American. Her static position on stage is unimpressive and her emotional gestures are nearly non-existent. Another eye and an inventive personality would definitely have given her more range and a more involving performance.
Nevertheless, the result of this short look into the mind of an octogenarian with a past, is a fascinating entry-point for literature buffs, history mavins and fiction devotees. Lewis Carroll's works are tremendously adult for their intended child audiences. What compels creativitity is always of interest, and how fiction affects reality, in this instance the truth behind the story behind that reality should interest many people.
This new play, only one hour and two minutes long, will inspire many people to look things up, read things and talk about a history long departed. A worthwhile effort that could be so much better, dream child has excellent qualities and a lot more to be realized in future productions.
dream child: the trial of alice in wonderland plays through June 19 at the Bridge Street Theatre, located at 44 W. Bridge Street, Catskill, NY. For information and tickets go on line at bridgestreettheatre.org or call 518-943-3818.