OnStage New York Critic
The life, works and myths of Lewis Carroll laid the groundwork for Then She Fell. Written, directed, designed and choreographed by Zach Morris, Tom Pearson and Jennine Willett, the show first opened in New York in 2012 and has been on the list of the unique and most popular theater attractions ever since. This piece of sight-specific immersive theater by Third Rail Projects invites only 15 audience members per performance, which makes the experience very personal. You have to be curious and brave enough to jump down this rabbit hole, but if you do, you will be rewarded with a journey full of theater magic.
When you enter the Kingsland Ward “hospital facility” in Williamsburg, one of the staff members gives you a set of instructions and checks your ID. You are invited to the waiting area where a nurse checks your belongings, hands you a vial of dark herbal elixir and a set of three keys. According to the facility rules, you are welcome to investigate locked cabinets and dark corners of the rooms but not allowed to open any closed doors.
As the Doctor (Charley Wenzel) does the introduction, members of the audience are being pulled out of the room in groups of as many as four and few as one. Hospital staff and characters inspired by “Alice In Wonderland” and “Through the Looking Glass” inhabit the house and lead you from one room to another. With the help of the original music and sound design by Sean Hagerty and the lighting design by Kryssy Wright, the audience is transported to a zone of the unconscious where dreams and desires meet.
The order of the scenes is different for everybody. I start my journey alone with Alice (Julia Kelly) in her walk-in-closet. She shows me her doll collection and asks to select my favorite one. She asks me when was the first time that I fell in love and if I ever had to tell a person that I don’t love them even if I did at least a little bit. She asks me to brush the back of her hair.
This extreme artistic device of putting you in the scene by making you speak, do things or simply make a choice provides you with a different kind of theater experience. It certainly engages you and doesn’t allow the mind to drift away. It also makes the fourth wall thin and fragile especially in the moments when the actors are piercing you with their eyes. The effect gets only stronger when you are alone with the person in a tiny room. For me, the main event of the evening became the gaze that cast members wear, as though part of their wardrobe. This calm and steady staring is disarming and paralyzing. It has a seducing intensity but there is no object and no subject of desire, just the gaze.
There are scenes where you are invited to assume the position that is more familiar for a theatergoer, the position of a voyeur. I’ve been told to wait in the hallway by the Doctor’s office. The door is open and I see the Doctor going through her paperwork and cabinets filled with files and tools. As she does it, she dances around the room, on the cabinets, chairs and window cell.
Then She Fell contains numerous beautifully choreographed scenes such as this one, where dancers give the space new dimensions by employing every single surface in the room. Sometimes they literarily turn the space upside down and outside out making the familiar architectural and interior objects look like M. C. Escher’s drawings. The most spectacular illustration to my words is a duet of Lewis Carroll (Samuel Swanton) and the second Alice (Kim Savarino) on the staircase where the dancers were going up sideways, almost parallel to the ground, using the space between the staircase and the wall.
There are other stunning visuals in the show, a lot of them build around the mirror as an object and as a metaphor of duality. I could watch the hypnotizing dance of both Alices with a semi-translucent mirror between them forever. Then She Fell engages not only your sight and your hearing, but also your smell and taste. You are offered a vial of alcoholic potion here and there, occasionally a fruit, a tiny cup of tea.
The connection between the hospital entourage and Charles Lutwidge Dodgson’s (aka Lewis Carroll’s) story remained a mystery to me. As I was guided through the rooms and hallways of the three-story house, it seemed like two worlds exist in parallel universes and you are standing in the doorway between them. Are the characters of the novels patrons of the hospital? Are you the patient that is hallucinating the imaginary romance between the writer and his 11-year old muse? The best way to find out is to jump down the rabbit hole. After all, Then She Fell is a mirror held to you, and everybody sees something different in there.
Then She Fell by Third Rail Projects runs Tuesday - Sunday at 7:30pm & 10:30pm. Tickets are $95 - $200, available at www.thenshefell.com through September 25. Private events are also available; visit the website for more information. The Kingsland Ward at St. Johns is located 195 Maujer Street in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. For more information call 718-374-5196.