Only 15 audience members a night fall down the rabbit hole during this immersive theater experience based on the life and work of Lewis Carroll and his disturbing relationship with Alice Liddell, the young girl he loved and for whom he wrote Alice in Wonderland. Created by Zach Morris, with help from Tom Pearson and Jennine Willett, the ingeniously structured piece plays at The Kingsland Ward at St. Johns in Williamsburg, a 100-year-old institutional building that has been dressed to look and feel like an old asylum, crammed with all kinds of creepy Carroll ephemera. I don’t drink—I drank enough liquor in my 20s to float Fire Island—so I bypassed the boozy concoctions served at strategic points throughout the show, but the alcohol must add to the surreal dizziness of this extremely exciting, deliberately disorienting production.
Then She Fell is very much based in movement; there's little actual speaking. The audience is first voyeurs, watching Alice (Rachel I. Berman) and Lewis Carroll (Alberto Denis) engage in a highly sexual push-and-pull dance, but they became much more interactive during a tea-party scene in which an aggressive Hatter (Elizabeth Carena) led us in a wild slapstick pantomime with our teacups. Deeper into the building, I was led alone to a small room where a nurse (Stacie C. Fields) handed me a book filled with desperate letters from Carroll to Alice Liddell’s family in which he wonders why they broke off contact with him. There were also some photos of Alice Liddell, looking indignant and miserable.
Not long after, I was led to a large room where Denis’s Carroll asked me, “Do you take dictation?” I gamely said yes and sat down to write out another tormented letter for him to the Liddell family. When I looked up from the letter, I saw that part of the room was surrounded by deep water and that Denis was sloshing his bare feet in it. Something about actually writing out this letter for Carroll and seeing him isolated in this watery room really made him sympathetic, but also repugnant. I was finally led into a small room where another Alice (Lindsey Dietz Marchant) asked me if I had ever been in love. I said yes, twice. “When was the first time?” she asked. “When I was 18,” I said. “My mother has set up an engagement for me with a prince,” she said in a hushed voice.
This production is the opposite of passive theatergoing, fashioning a real adventure that involves you intimately and gets under your skin. What it viscerally arrives at is the awful standoff between a little girl and an older man who loved her inappropriately and made something beautiful for her to salve his pain—and also to ensnare her forever. Then She Fell gets across the full horror of what that meant for her, and also what that means for us.
Photo by Darial Sneed