Then She Fell

"It's like we saw two different shows." - My friend

Then She Fell

by Third Rail Projects

June 27, 2018

It's almost inconceivable that I'll be leaving New York City in 3 short weeks.

24 days, to be exact.

So when my friend asked what I'd most like to see before setting sail on my next journey I immediately replied with, "that crazy show that's like Sleep No More but isn't and I think maybe it's inspired by Alice in Wonderland? I think they dance or something and only 12 people can get in each night? Oh, and isn't it in a church?"

My ramblings, once I could remember the name of the show, translated into Then She Fell, a brilliant piece of physical storytelling that's haunting in all the best ways. My friend, who's up for anything, got us tickets for the 10:30pm show on a Wednesday, which turned out to be a perfect time for the unexpected.

The show is loosely based on the writings of Lewis Carroll, with a smattering of (in my opinion) questionable assumptions about his relationship with young Alice. Lewis Carroll is the pen name of a certain Charles Dodgson, mathematician and logician at the University of Oxford. My heart melts with fondness when I picture his white-framed window at Christ Church College, which I passed frequently during my 3 years living there. He's somewhat of a hero on Oxford University tours, and the Alice in Wonderland Shop on St Aldate's is a delight to visit for tea. Not just any tea, ACTUAL tea down the road from where the Mad Hatter originated. If that doesn't give you literary shivers, I don't know what will.

Carroll's writing has inspired as many spinoffs in popular culture as Poe, Dorian Grey, and Mr. Darcy combined (don't trust that fact, it's probably not true, but there are a LOT of spinoffs). The Story Museum in Oxford celebrates Alice's Day every summer, and I got to meet the white rabbit in person! Or at least a very rushed and overwhelmed adult in a bunny costume. (Sometimes it's worth suspending disbelief and rolling with the carrots.)

Then She Fell is another hare entirely, one that's dark, sinister, sexy, and full of creative juices Carroll would have gasped at. It's immersive theater at its best, crisply performed with the magic of immaculate timing that sweeps you into a flowing "liminal state" at the edge of sleep.

Every moment of the show feels like a dream, escalating and deescalating the the breath of a giant whale. Ponderous music resonates through hidden speakers in every room, and the illusions of Lewis Carroll are brought stunningly to life. But it's not your traditional retelling of Alice in Wonderland. Rather, it presumes that we're in a mental ward, and we're left wondering if we, perhaps, are the crazy ones. Are we watching Alice's dream as a grown woman, institutionalized because of her overactive imagination? Is it Carroll himself, gone mad with unexpressed feelings for a young girl that toe the line between romantic and paternal? Or have we ourselves fallen asleep, only to dream of snippets from Through the Looking Glass, vaguely recalled through the haze of childhood?

Whatever your approach, don't go with the expectation that Then She Fell will "make sense." The audience is immediately separated into different rooms, thus a wholly unique narrative unfolds for each participant. I started with the Mad Hatter, trying on a tri-corner hat with feathers, before joining two versions of Alice who perform a stunning reflective dance with a false mirror between them. One leaves, and the other encourages me to peel an orange. I've never peeled an orange so slowly in my life, and as I attempted to maintain eye contact with the dancer I found her coy smiles and giggles both endearing and, well, spooky.

Other scenes blur together, with shining moments pulled to the forefront of my memory. Isn't that much like a dream? At one point, Lewis Carroll pulls a book to reveal a hidden door to his study, which is a snaking pathway of wood surrounded by water on either side. He's asked me to dictate a letter to Alice, and, dishearteningly, places it in a glass bottle and lays it in the water. Thus my own handwriting becomes part of the set.

Later, the Mad Hatter climbs on top of a wardrobe and adds a tick-mark to a wall. It's covered in them, and I instantly know they're not only marking the passage of time for the Hatter, but the passage of time for the show. Smudges of fingerprints and shoe marks on walls betray the actual, physical passage of time, because they were not created by any set designer. They're real marks from the performers' bodies, included and enshrined in every current and future performance.

By the end I felt like I'd been in a meditative state, slowly awakening to the harsh, real world. I nearly cried when I unfolded a final piece of paper and read a poem, dear to my heart, that I shall never forget:

It is a good night for ghosts. The rabbit in the moon is full and waiting to take souls to far shores as it crosses the sky.

I dreamt a dream that I was with you tonight. I awoke and my lips were numb from saying your name.

I dreamt that we were dreaming a dream together, you and I, and we were trapped in a house, big as memory. Countless doors.

You were there. I could hear you laughing, but I only caught glimpses of you in the glass. Eventually I gave in and found myself staring at myself, reflected. Looking at myself looking back at me. Both of us trying to decipher the face that was in front of us. My eyes seeing me in mine and countless.

I have retreated into twos because of you.

I wonder, when you look in the mirror, who stares you down at night?

But, it is late, and my mind is running away with itself.

Sleep well, wherever you are.

It is a good night for ghosts. And in between us, we have a pocketful.

When I get home at 1:30am I record the order of scenes in shaking hand, feeling the images descend into memory like sand from cupped hands. My friend saw other scenes - painting a rose red, Alice fight/dancing with the Red Queen - and it's like we saw two different shows. Two different stories. Two narratives united by a common soundtrack and common actors, but intermingled like salt and fresh water. It's the kind of show you could see dozens of times, and it would never be the same.

I encourage everyone with a love of dance, Alice, immersion, dreams, or time to make their way to Williamsburg for this masterpiece. "The clock is ticking," says the rabbit. "Hurry, or you'll be late."

Image courtesy The Wall Street Journal

Ticket Price: $125

My Price: $125

This is one of those shows I wanted to see so badly that I paid full price. Well...technically my friend paid, but both of us still thought it was worth the value.

By Third Rail Projects
Written, Directed, Designed, and Choreographed by Zach Morris, Tom Pearson, and Jennine Willett (Artistic Directors)

There are too many people involved for me to type them all out. This will have to do.

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