The dog days of summer have clamped their jaws around our quiet, little, white-bread, mountain-adjacent town, and that means it’s time once again for the Boulder International Fringe Festival, a celebration of art showcasing productions and performances that might not otherwise see the light of day. As with most such festivals, Boulder’s Fringe Fest, gives producers, directors and actors long on creativity and drive – but most often short on resources – the opportunity to see their ideas come to life on actual stages in front of paying audiences.
Alice Crypt typifies a Fringe Festival production. Operating on nearly non-existent budgets, led by single-minded producers/directors/writers, peopled by amateur or, at best, semi-professional casts and crews, Fringe Festival productions are often far riskier and equally less polished than their bourgeois cousins found at the full-time theatre houses. A Fringe production, thereby, greatly increases its odds of being either a dazzling surprise or an abject failure. Or, as in the case of Alice Crypt, it can tread the middle ground and offer moments of inspired creativity side by side with cringe-worthy missteps.
If I had to describe Alice Crypt in one pitch meeting-type phrase, it would be Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by way of Corpse Bride. Andryn Arithson, the producer/director/writer, joins the likes of Tim Burton, Clyde Geronimi (the Disney version) and Alan Moore in reimagining Lewis Carroll’s mind-bending little-girl-lost story. In some ways, Arithson’s version blazes its own trail.
Alice (C. May Nickel), for instance, arrives in this version of Wonderland looking like a Goth hottie and brandishing a knife, and she follows a black cat rather than a white rabbit into the unknown.
In other ways, most obviously the makeup and strained, one-note portrayal of the Queen of Wasps (who, apparently, usurped the Queen of Hearts from the original), Alice Crypt betrays the heavy influence of the most recent Tim Burton version of the tale. Similarly, given the current bloodsucker mania sweeping the nation I suppose it was inevitable that Alice Crypt would feature a vampire (presumably subbing for the Mad Hatter). Still, must it have been so? The vampire has an English accent. Of course. He speaks in a series of sexy double entendres. Of course. He has a pelvis-gyrating, rock opera-style musical number. Of course. (Damn you, Twilight! True Blood, you get a pass.)
Where Alice Crypt most surpasses expectations is in its details. The makeup and costuming of the Cheshire Cat are quite good and, in conjunction with a strong performance by Ariel Haan, help define that character more completely than many others on stage. The design of the fish in one story-within-a-story scene is remarkable in its effectiveness and simplicity. The various creatures that stilt walker Annabel Reader brings to life are, to a one, oddly interesting. The Jabberwocky, too, is a pleasantly unexpected combination of prosthetics and lumbering gait that is intended to terrify but, I am sure unintentionally, brings immediately to mind a demented Snuffaluffagus after a week at Mardi Gras.
While I enjoyed much of Alice Crypt — particularly Nickel’s credible, modern Alice — one key aspect of this adaptation kept me from engaging with it to the extent I might have liked. To explain, I must drop a spoiler, so stop reading now if you want to go in completely fresh.
In the “traditional” Alice, the reader or viewer is left to ponder whether Wonderland is real or merely a dream and whether Alice will find her way home or be trapped there forever. In Alice Crypt, dear little Alice is actually dearly departed little Alice, and from scene one (or for the less observant among you, scene three or so) there is no ambiguity about the fact that she is deader than the least lively doornail.
Alice’s death precludes any return to the “real world,” and leaves Alice Crypt, along with this critic, in a state of limbo. With the end foretold at the very beginning and no way out for poor Alice, the rooting interest is non-existent, and the play misses its chance to engage the audience’s empathy.
On the Bill
Alice Crypt plays through Saturday, Aug. 28 at the Dairy Center for the Arts. Tickets are $10-$12. For tickets or information, visit www.boulderfringe.com.
2590 Walnut St., Boulder.