A few weeks ago I was in New York City for work and I had to spend the night. I decided to go to the theater and I found something called Then She Fell. It’s hard to call it a play because it is not a play in the traditional sense of the word. There is not a stage and audience seating. The audience members play a part in the production.
The audience is only 15 people and when you enter you are taken to a small room where you are given a drink and invited to explore the space. You quickly learn that you are in a mental hospital and where seems like Alice Liddell is interred at the hospital.
The story that unfolds is a variation of the Alice in Wonderland story that ebbs in and out of Alice Liddell’s (speculative) biography. For those of you who do not know, Lewis Carroll wrote Alice in Wonderland as an adult man. Alice Liddell was a 6-year-old neighbor girl that he befriended and used her as the basis for Alice in his story. Modern scholars speculate that Carroll may have been a pedophile or at least had a romantic infatuation with the child. It is unclear and we may never know, but this performance is a story that floats between the fictional Alice and the speculative aftermath of a post-Carroll Alice Liddell.
While the audience is in the room, cast members begin to split the audience apart and we were pulled into different rooms where we see and participate in different pieces of the performance. You are lead throughout the large 3-floor building for the next 2 hours. I read that an audience member only sees 75% of everything that is performed so I will share some of my favorites.
Two juxtaposed Alice scenes were very powerful. One was an innocent Alice dancing and being held by Carroll and the other was Alice as the Queen of Hearts as an aggressive seductress. Alone, each scene is choreographed well, but next to each other, it really does make you feel like you are watching a mind split. There was a mad hatter’s tea party that was lovely and fun. This scene took us back to the hospital setting and it felt like a way to deliver medicine to someone having a break. It was a reminder from the playwright; “Enjoy the story, but remember you’re in a madhouse for good reason.”
Let me talk about my relationship with the other audience members. I went alone and I think that is the best way to do it. Everyone gets split up and I think if I would have gone with someone it would have taken me out of the story. I think I would have thought, “Wait, where are they taking Sam?” if we had gone together. I say this because I was with a couple and one of them was split off, leaving me with the guy together for a few scenes. Later in the performance, he and I found ourselves lying in bed together listening to a story by one of the performers. (Don’t worry it was for the sake of art.)
I am not sure what happened near the end for others, but I found myself alone in a number of amazing scenes. One scene was a small room filled with a 1000 roses and a butcher block. The roses were in different states of decay. It smelled so lovely and felt almost transcendent. In another scene, I was in a much larger room alone with an actress. The room was staged with student desks thrown asunder. She poured me a drink and stayed very close to me. She definitely invaded my personal space, but that invasion added to the sense of the performance. She would not release eye contact with me and the actress created a feeling of intimacy I was not expecting or prepared for that night.
The final scene took me to a study where I had a cup of tea and read a conclusion about Alice and Lewis. It was a simple way to leave the world they had successfully built over the previous 2 hours. It’s not a cheap ticket, but theater in New York never seems to be. I think it cost me $140. I really liked this play and I highly recommend it. It’s weird and will not be for everyone, but I thought the actors were great. I followed them down a rabbit hole and into a very strange world that they painted beautifully. I loved it.