This story first appeared in the March 2018 edition of The Hilltop.
“Lonely,” said the Griffin. “I know what that word means.”
Alumna Rachel Ost’s first original play, “Alice,” was a delightful reweaving of a familiar tale full of heartwarming and heartbreaking life-like experiences and emotions. It was easy to see how she could have described the work as an interpretation of growing up in her 20s. Thought-provoking questions were raised, surprisingly deep sayings were coined and real questions of identity were brought up as the audience experienced this coming-of-age story.
Heather Bellinger portrayed Alice as a sweet, thoughtful girl who feels very lost in a world full of bitterness, anger and harsh expectations.
“Where are you going, Alice?” and “Who are you?” were questions that seemed to pummel the young girl on every side: the real world and the fantasy one. Aren’t these questions many can relate to in this stage of life?
“Where are you going with your life?”
“Who are you going to be?”
It can seem quite overwhelming, and Bellinger portrayed that with a beautiful child-like innocence for her character.
“I don’t think I have enough courage to be brave,” Alice said in Act One.
“What is brave?” the Griffin asked later in the act, and bravery was a theme evident throughout the play. Ost explores the concept of being brave while still fearful. Standing up to a nightmare doesn’t require that one be dauntless, just brave. Almost all the characters have to face their fears at one time or another.
Identity, however, is perhaps the strongest theme woven within the work.
“Your hat is you and you are it,” the Mad Hatter said.
By using hats to represent identity, Ost gives the audience a visual representation of each character. Whether they’re mad and absurd, like the Mad Hatter, simple and not straying from what they know, like the March Hare, or soft, tender-hearted and flexible like the Dormouse, nearly everyone in this world knows who they are and anyone who looks at them can tell.
For Alice, who still doesn’t know what or who she is, however, this is an intimidating concept that she’s not sure she likes at the beginning. She doesn’t understand why she needs a hat, and she doesn’t quite believe that one is custom made for her. Like anyone who isn’t secure in their identity, she is defensive at first, but, when confronted by it, she finally accepts it.
The use of lighting and sound effects also added greatly to the play. Flickering lights, eerie chimes, blood red floodlights and a single white spotlight spoke as loudly as the memorable quotes themselves. The simple, movable set also seemed to make the ever-changing environment that Alice was growing up in come to life, and kept the audience unsure. The walls of the garden danced around the stage like the walls of Alice’s worldview, and beliefs were moving and shifting in her.
Mastering the art of anticipation, the Red Queen doesn’t enter the stage until the second act, and, when she does, Ost uses her to draw chilling parallels between the antagonist and protagonist. A far more mature and violent creature, the Red Queen is still undoubtedly an outcome that Alice could tend toward.
Parallels are drawn throughout the play, between the March Hare and the White Rabbit in their fear of straying from the unknown, the King and the Cheshire Cat in their clever advisory roles to the opposing parties, and the Griffin and the Knave in their defensive and offensive positions. They all have identities that they have chosen, or are choosing to make for themselves. It’s clear that any of them could have turned out quite differently were they to have made different decisions.
Everyone knows what lonely means. Everyone knows what afraid means. But many are still learning what brave and noble and identity mean. As Alice learns what her place in the world ought to be, the audience is left questioning, “I wonder what my hat would be? I wonder who I’m supposed to be?” right along with Ost and her Alice.