Ravens & Writing Desks

Ravens & Writing Desks
Theater Review
By Jeffrey Kieviet

…But a Cat without a Grin

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“We are but older children, dear, who fret to find our bedtime near,” can mean much and many different things to a many different people, and weighs heavier with each reading, each year, each breath. To a child, this quote can be a little rhyme before bed, as I was once a child who hated bedtime and the need to be quiet, calm, and still, left alone from waking hours to visit slumberland and dream of wonderful adventures or ferocious nightmares. As we get older, and become the referenced “older children” (for who among us truly grows up?), the bedtime being referred to could very well be the eternal sleep, our final rest, our death lingering just past the ticking of a clock.

The simple chime (“that served in time, the rhythm of our rowing”) comes from the prologue of Lewis Carroll’s classic sequel to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland: Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There. I have always been a fan of Disney’s Alice in Wonderland and have tried to check out any interpretation & spin-off I can find (from the surreal Alice of the 80s [with taxidermy stop-motion rabbits leaking sawdust] to Malice in Wonderland [where “eat me/drink me” drugs make Alice feel too big or too small] and even Alice Through the Looking Glass [where a 30 year old Kate Beckinsale plays an 8 year old Alice, those silly Brits {although I guess that’s no worse than a 40 year old Matt Damon playing Liberace’s barely-legal boy-toy in Behind the Candelabra, but I digress}]). So when I got the call to be involved in a play based on & inspired by the many works of Lewis Carroll, I jumped at the bit.

Cast

And what a reimagining it was. This play was a movement piece (avant-garde interpretive dance?) and it was fantastic (this isn’t just my opinion, ask anyone who saw it, we sold out five weeks in a row). Ravens & Writing Desks was a passion project, written & conceived by Angela Lopez & Ryan McClary, and directed by Angela Lopez. I’d known Angela briefly at OCC and got to work with her a few times over the years, in Hunger Artists’ Dead Letter Office, and then she did movement workshops for Frankenstein in Love, and most recently she was the choreographer for pool (no water). All of these are stories in themselves, but lets skip past the past for today and focus on the now.

The story portrayed in Ravens & Writing Desks is a timeless tale of love, loss, heartache, and ultimately, self discovery. To break it down into its simplest elements, Alice grows up with a group of friends, falls in love with the popular & handsome White Rabbit, loses him to the Queen of Hearts, gets screwed over by the devastatingly sexy Cheshire Cat (in a shining performance by yours truly), fights a Jabberwocky, and discovers her worst enemy was herself all along. And, much like the books, she meets & greets a slew of strange, quirky characters along the way: the always judgmental Caterpillar (“Who are youuuu?”), the insanely hysterical Mad Hatter & her prolific counterpart the March Hare (who is harboring a deep seated crush on the oblivious Alice), a pack of cards (who, instead of “painting the roses red,” paint themselves in invisible paint [until the wicked-cool black-light dance]), & even Peter Pan & Wendy, who teach Alice that no matter how hard you try, you can’t force love. Other familiar faces are Tweedledee & Tweedledum, the Dormouse, the Snark, and Father William, the titular character of another Lewis Carroll poem, who serves as the audience’s guide & humble narrator (as well as the most famous of the lost boys).

Peter & WendyCaterpillar

Ambiguous meanings and personal interpretations are aplenty since the limited dialogue is just as full of symbolism & strangeness as the movement. Everyone can take away a different story or conclusion about what may or may not have happened, and I had a few tell me, “I have no idea what I just saw, but it was beautiful.” People seemed genuinely moved by the show and I know the cast was full of emotion for every performance.

We had a few months of rehearsal and I’m incredibly grateful for the time we had to practice. I could barely do a summersault when we started and by the time the show opened I was bouncing around and swinging through the set like a monkey (“like you’re swinging on monkey bar boners,” was one note the director gave to the cast. Whether that was meant to be monkey’s boners or just regular ones set up like monkey bars on a playground, no one wanted to ask and ruin the mystery). The cast had so much fun working together, and Angela, the director, managed to keep 15 crazy people organized while still creating an incredibly fun, footloose & fancy-free atmosphere. Aside from all being talented dancers/movers, these people were very funny.

Hatter & Hare

Here’s a little behind the scenes: The Mad Hatter’s monologue about the “multi-verse” kept the audience in stitches, and the cast would quote along silently backstage with glee every time she talked about “reality’s pinball machine.” Our narrator also works as a professional clown (still wanna “birth my clown” some day). Tweedledee & Tweedledum managed to generate enough goofiness that they worked their characters’ comic relief into one of the more violent and dark scenes, only juxtaposing the horror all the more for an even more twisted effect. The White Rabbit was the designated c** bucket, the Bear didn’t learn how to read until the last night, and the Snark & Raccoon spent all of “story time” trying to find dirty words in the forth Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants book.

Speaking of “story time,” Father William made up a different tale to tell every night, right then on the spot. Some times it was about grocery shopping, or blue hats, or going skeet shooting as children are want to do, but he’d lower his voice and build suspense until he could scare the bajeesus out of the March Hare. And then he wouldn’t give the Hare his book for 10 minutes as they ran in circles trying to… I guess you had to be there. But it wasn’t until closing night that he managed to work in a story of Dorothy Gale and the Witches of Oz, the perfect addition of another lost girl who grew-up. And as the show itself grew, new in-jokes, character back-stories, and personal meanings bloomed like a garden full of talking flowers. Sometimes the audience got in on the jokes, like the White Rabbit throwing in a, “haha, yeah she did,” randomly somewhere in the show (2 in a row closing night, finally made me break and laugh on stage), but so much of it was just for the cast. Eventually, I want to write a novel detailing the story we created, revealing all the subtext and goings-on of this crazy world. For a 2 hour show with 15 minutes of dialogue, it was rich with story and character.

And bench flips. I still have a scar on my arm.
And bench flips. I still have a scar on my arm.

Eventually, we got to watch a taping of the show and I was blown away. I mean, modesty and everything, but the show looked freakin’ sweet. The lighting was totally groovy, the visual performance was intricate and fascinating, the music all worked so well (seriously, check out the soundtrack some time, I’ll burn you a CD), and when characters sped up or slowed down it looked like film wizardry but it was all live on stage. The costumes were fantastic, with the White Rabbit basically wearing a bunny skull on his head, the Bear’s iron maiden headpiece, the Mad Hatter & March Hare’s matching hints of green, and the final battle between pure & clean (not so clean by the end of the show) Alice vs the dark & maniacal Evil Alice. The cast & crew were some of the greatest people I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with, kind and encouraging. It is a rare treat to work with a cast so large and no one’s ego gets in the way & there is no prima donna for everyone to bitch about (unless I never heard the complaints because I was the diva). I highly recommend checking out the Garage Theater (in Collision with Alive Theater) for upcoming auditions if you want to perform, or just check out show times if you want to be entertained. I’m looking forward to hopefully working there again and again, and especially with Post Mortem, the movement theatre who presented the show.

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Now to just get a tattoo of that Cheshire Grin…

Cheshire

ALL Photos courtesy of Devin Workman.

2 comments

  1. Derek Nahigyan Reply

    So bummed I missed this one. Sounds like it was oddly more grounded than pool (no water), and, perhaps even more strikingly, more linear…
    Off to create a theatre page.

    • J.K. Reply

      Thanks bud. I might have oversimplified; linear and grounded are not words I would use to describe this play. But definitely fun & surreal. Hopefully we stage it again, maybe take it on tour to Seattle.

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