Alice In Slasherland has a character named Alice, and a character name Lewis (As in Lewis Carroll), but that’s all it has in common with Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The playwright and his characters are aware of this, even pointing this out in the dialog. The play does have a lot in common with horror movies however, and it blends together elements from several popular movie franchises to create the distinct style of action theater that is the trademark of the Vampire Cowboys.
At one point in the show a projection screen drops in front of the stage, and a short animated film begins to play. In this video a frustrated narrator attempts to tell the real story of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland. The animators and the narrator reluctantly reveal that they know almost nothing about the book, and the video begins adding in elements from other famous stories while still trying to get in something about tea parties. It’s one of the funniest moments of the night but this is also how playwright Qui Nguyen excuses the fact that his show really has nothing whatsoever to do with Lewis Carroll’s work. Most of the audience is probably in the same boat as the unreliable narrator and have never actually read the books, only knowing what they remember from childhood viewings of the Disney cartoon.
This frees up the show to tell a story about a girl who happens to be named Alice and how she punches and stabs lots of monsters. When a group of teens at a party accidentally unleashes an army of demons, it’s up to a monstrous girl called Alice (Played by Emily Williams), a love-starved nerd named Lewis (Eugene Young Oh), a cheerleader named Margaret (Bonnie Sherman), and their talking demon teddy bear (Robert Ross Parker).
Alice and her pals kill something in just about every scene and the choreography for this is often very clever. One scene pits them against a flying demon(Nicky Schmidlein). The cast appears to be trying to hang on to the creature, but they’re really lifting the “flying” actor into the air without the use of wires. It’s a convincing illusion and the sort of gag that would only work on a live stage.
In other scenes there are acrobatic kung fu fights and blood-splattering stunts where people get stabbed with machetes; the actors even go into slow motion at times for moves that simulate Hollywood special effect shots.
Despite the violence, Alice is a spoof of horror movies rather than serious spook show. Themes of teen romance pop up, with the geeky Lewis harboring unrequited crushes on two girls at the same time. The violence of 80’s style slasher films is mocked with a ballet sequence where a Jason Vorhees sort of character (Played by Tom Myers) murders naughty vixens while “Total Eclipse of the Heart” plays.
Alas, as with many shows from the Vampire Cowboys, this play puts the combat and spectacle ahead of the narrative. It lacks the sharp satire of horror parodies like Scream and opts for the disjointed topical references of the Scary Movie series instead. It even includes references to Miley Cyrus’ Twerking and Ben Affleck’s role as Batman.
The show works best in self-contained scenes like the ballet and the video. The rest of the time Alice and her friends are trying to fight their way to the source of the demon outbreak. It’s deliberately disjointed and uses lots of flashbacks and flash-forwards to tell the story. This jumping back and forth between time periods, and rampant use of multimedia are unnecessary and sometimes reveal too much of the plot to quickly.
Alice herself starts out as a reference to Asian ghost stories; she stumbles around with long black hair obscuring her face like in The Ring, but after a couple of scenes she becomes an agile schoolgirl along the lines of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Occasionally she’ll switch between the two personas, entering with a clumsy shuffle then gracefully running across the stage only to resume her ghostly stance before nimbly cartwheeling into battle.
Other characters suddenly reveal that they can transform into a powerful alternate form, but they save this revelation until it becomes dramaturgically convenient (Surely the secret battle mode would have come in handy during all of the previous near-death fights). Genre fans understand that these sorts of narrative flaws are common in actual horror movies, so they could be excused in a parody. At least by audiences looking for a quick laugh and a chance to see a teddy bear swing a machete.
The Alice in Wonderland reference in the title is an unabashed stratagem to market the show. Those who take the bait won’t find any Lewis Carroll references or deep analysis of horror movies, but there is some innovative stage combat, a few good laughs and a gratuitous Schoolgirl-On-Cheerleader lesbian kiss. Alice In Slasherland is playing now through November 2nd at Incubator Arts Projects in Manhattan.