Kara Lee Corthron’s
AliceGraceAnon now at the vast Irondale Center, is an appropriately sprawling piece of theater: part rock musical and part feminist mash-up. And even if it’s only intermittently successful, it’s consistently intriguing.
Corthron and her game co-developer and director Kara-Lynn Vaeni posit a suspended-in-time encounter among three thematically linked figures: 12-year-old Lewis Carroll muse Alice Liddell (the adorably piqued Teresa Avia Lim), rock icon Grace Slick (the over-effusive Carolyn Baeumler), and “Anonymous” (the exuberantly expressive Christina Pumariega), the fictive diarist behind the cautionary 1971 novel Go Ask Alice, the title of which was inspired by Slick’s trademark druggie anthem “White Rabbit.”
After a prefatory rock-concert segment, during which Baeumler is called upon to pump up the audience (the hard sell controverts the real Slick’s contained, cooler-than-thou style), the protagonists are abruptly thrust into a kind of amorphous purgatory where they must remain until they’ve managed to work up the gumption to stand up to the men in their lives. It’s these confrontations that give the play its real interest and bite.
Alice has the biggest bone to pick. Not only is she quite put out by the fantastical Wonderland creatures who refuse to give her a clue (a conga line of hand-waggling, rain-poncho-cloaked supernumeraries make for a terrific Caterpillar, headed up by a snide Eric Clem), she’s miffed that her stuttering would-be suitor Charles Dogdson (Clem again) has gone public with what she considered to be their private pastime.
Their tight, barbed exchanges are the highlight of this antic, freewheeling play. “Have you considered my proposal?” urges Mr. Dodson. Alice’s answer: “Yes, I considered it preposterous.”
Slick’s role, while the most factual, is also the least fleshed out. Compounding her off-putting duties as cheerleader for the play, the singer is portrayed as an aggressive sexual braggart. Little wonder that her bandmate/husband Paul Kantner (Matt Dellapina) wishes she would tone it down.
Then again, he’s the kind of scornful Pygmalion who insists on keeping her in her place. And unfortunately, the only way the pair can approach reconciliation is by mouthing Grateful Dead lyrics via a stuffed bear named Jerry Garcia.
It’s “Anonymous” who must straddle the widest gap between fact and fiction. While Go Ask Alice was allegedly the legacy of a street kid who OD’d; it was in fact the creation of a Mormon youth counselor named Beatrice Sparks, who created the story out of whole cloth as a warning to errant youth.
All three females in Corthon’s narrative are on a quest to reclaim their stories, but Anonymous most desperately of all – especially after she encounters Sparks (Dellapina in a Church Lady wig) typing away, determining her destiny with the caveat “Happy endings don’t save lives.”