One couple, two perspectives, tons of geekery

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Down the Rabbit Hole: A Review of "Then She Fell"

As a gamer, theater nerd and writer, it’s safe to say that I have a healthy imagination.  I simply never outgrew playing pretend. So you can imagine how thrilled I am that a new wave of immersive experiences is taking the theater world by storm lately. My favorite among them? Third Rail Project’s Then She Fell, an immersive theatrical dance performance which thrusts its audience head first down the rabbit hole straight into Wonderland.

I’ve been following the company’s Steampunk Haunted House productions for the past three years, which was my first experience into this type of theater. They had me hooked from the start. Now, with Then She Fell, they’ve pushed the envelope.  

When you first arrive, you are given a ring of keys and encouraged to explore by opening the various locked boxes and chests you will find in rooms throughout the performance. However, you may not open any closed doors nor may you speak unless spoken to. The reason? It is a guided experience which has been carefully choreographed to provide a seamless, personalized journey for each of the audience members. The no talking rule is a staple of immersive theater and is in place for a good reason; eliminating your ability to speak allows you to observe more acutely rather than forcing yourself to make nervous chatter with other participants which can distract you from the heart of the experience. To really get the most out of this event, you must surrender to it. Do not resist, just embrace it. Give up control and just let it sweep you up in the story. Of you are able to do this, you will not be disappointed.

With only 15 audience members per each 2-hour performance, the show is designed to give participants a level of intimacy that many other, more popular immersive shows, lack. This means that audience members will frequently have one-on-one time alone with a number of Lewis Carroll characters such as the White Rabbit, the Mad Hatter, Alice, or even Lewis Carroll himself.

Throughout the show, you are guided through a series of vignettes where you watch the narrative unfold in a disjointed, dreamlike fashion. The order in which things occur and the things you witness changes from person to person as each participant has a different experience, making it fun to catch up with friends afterwards to discuss over coffee and compare journeys. For myself, I got to be a guest at the Mad Hatter’s tea party, I scribed for Lewis Carroll while he dictated a letter to Alice, I was tucked into bed by the White Queen and told a bedtime story, I got trapped behind a looking glass, imprisoned in a room full of roses by the Red Queen, had a conversation with Alice about love while I brushed her hair, followed the White Rabbit from room to room and ate and drank various elixirs and treats as they were given to me. As a Kickstarter backer for the production, I also had a personalized medical record hidden somewhere on the set which I managed to find. My diagnosis? Catalepsy resulting from delusions and an overactive imagination. It seems they know me well.

The show itself takes place at the formerly abandoned Greenpoint Hospital in Brooklyn which has been transformed into a performance art center. It is a site that was made for this show and adds another layer of depth into the narrative of the story, by adding a cast of nurses and a doctor shuffling throughout the environment occasionally coming to escort you onwards or force characters to take their meds, which leaves you to question if this is all just a shared hallucination of mentally ill patients after all. The story itself is a beautiful merge of the speculative relationship between historical, real-life figures of Charles Dodgson (aka Lewis Carroll) and Alice Liddell and Carroll’s beloved writings which have become a classic icon of literature for adults and children alike. But make no mistake, with its heavily sexual themes and connotations explored, this is performance is adults only and you must have a valid ID with you when you show up.

In addition to the relationship aspect of the story, The She Fell also delves into themes revolving around duality which can be found both subtly and overtly through the show. And as mentioned earlier, the presence of hospital staff and interior environment also adds a layer of subtext and thematics related to the idea of imagination vs reality and the thin line between. It may seem like a number of intense topics to present into one production, but Third Rail Projects’ cast and crew pull it off with an unparalleled level of brilliance and masterful integrity to their vision. The performers themselves wear the characters like a second skin and convey a heartbreakingly beautiful depth of emotions in their every movement and every glance.

With all their shows currently sold out, a lot of people are unfortunately going to miss out on this gem, but they occasionally have last minute cancellations and there is talk that the show might have an extended run in the future, but whether or not the production will stay housed at its current location or reinvent itself in a new location remains to be seen. If this sounds like something you want to experience, I highly recommend subscribing to the company’s mailing list and following them on Facebook. All in all, I cannot praise this transcendent piece of theater enough. If you get the chance, see it.

Then She Fell
Third Rail Projects

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