Go ask Alice.
When Jonathan Moscone joined the Dallas Theater Center in 1993, the ink was still wet on his MFA in directing from the Yale School of Drama. Five years later, when Moscone, DTC's associate artistic director, decided to adapt Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland stories for the 1998-1999 season, he turned to another talent fresh out of Yale, 28-year-old playwright Karen Hartman.
The result of their collaboration is Alice: Tales of a Curious Girl, which receives its world premiere at DTC on February 24 and runs through March 21. While there's no explicitly gay action onstage--at age 13, the character of Alice is just leaving childhood--DTC's Alice brings a distinctly queer new perspective to the Victorian classics Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass.
Hartman acknowledges that their shared gay identity has influenced Moscone's and her vision of Carroll's fantasy world. "All of the tantalizing creatures Alice meets in Wonderland are neither one gender nor the other," Hartman explains. "The four actors who play Wonderland characters---three men and one woman--are totally cross-gendered weirdos. They're all in black with lots of eye makeup. When Alice meets the Red Queen, he's a man in a red satin suit. She's attracted to this guy who knows how to combine glamour and male qualifies. She wants to be queen too."
As in Carroll's original, Alice must drink a potion in order to follow a White Rabbit who disappears behind a tiny door. In Moscone's staging, the "shrinking" potion is embodied by a woman who steps up to deliver the magic to Alice via a symbolic kiss.
"I've always been fascinated and seduced by the character of Alice," says the 34-year-old Moscone, who is the son of late San Francisco mayor George Moscone. "Although she visits so many wildly imagined characters on her journey through Wonderland and the Looking Glass, no one is more complex in all the ways children and younger people are than Alice herself. I guess she reminds me of me--on the verge of change, wondering, curious, confused, and constantly shifting perspectives about who I am and want to be."
When he began to consider presenting the Alice stories, Moscone read numerous adaptations and couldn't find one he liked. Someone suggested that he contact Hartman, whose resume includes a Fulbright Scholarship as well as stints on the faculties of Bennington and Yale.
"Jonathan had his own ideas about the story," Hartman recalls. "He wanted Alice to be 13, not 7. He wanted to show the inner life of a preadolescent. Over the summer he flew to meet me twice. We went through both books, taking notes on the material, talking about how to wake it up into a play."
This Alice, promises Moscone, will be "first and foremost an adventure. Karen and I, along with DTC's magnificent design team, want to take the audience for a ride--first through this electric dream world, like a Fellini carnival; then into a more thoughtful, almost mournful world inside the self, as Alice's childhood is lost and the journey toward the adult self must inevitably begin."
Having come out himself only in the past five years, Moscone understands Alice's search for identity. "As Alice leaves her childhood and becomes a young adult, [she realizes] what role she plays in society and challenges it. She is searching for a truer self than one predetermined by the strict Victorian world."
Moscone stresses that Alice's journey is relevant today. "At the beginning of the play, Alice is learning lessons about how a girl is supposed to be. Her growth begins when she breaks away from those rules and is driven by her own curiosity. Alice has to throw out the rule book." As a gay man, Moscone says, he relates: "Every young gay person's coming out is a way to say no to their predetermined role."
Smith is a freelance writer living in Dallas.