Straight through the looking glass comes James R. Winker in "With Alice in Wonderland," a solo performance (of excerpts from Lewis Carroll's "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" and commentary by the actor) opening today at the Itchey Foot Ristorante.
"It's something I began three years ago, the result of being an actor in Los Angeles with too much time on your hands," said Winker, whose one-man show on British World War I poet Wilfred Owen played the Itchey Foot in 1983. "It's always good to work on the mind. So I began memorizing 'Alice'--started with my favorite chapters, and finally I knew the whole thing. But it was hard! The prose is repetitive, not like Shakespeare, where the rhymes take you through.
"I was going to do a show about Carroll but gave it up. He was so repressed, so Victorian, it made my skin crawl. Then I started reading about the book--which has been translated into 50 languages. Actually, it was never that big a hit in America. W. H. Auden says its because Alice is not the typical kind of American hero like Tom Sawyer or Huck Finn: cocky, pushing things through. Alice is sensible, holds back, tries to think things out. Even Disney never liked her."
Originally, Winker's presentation centered on two chapters of the story. Now he's up to four.
"I also talk about the book, the different versions there've been: the Eva Le Gallienne version, the Walt Disney version--and ending with the Jim Winker version. Then I'll be discussing Carroll, a little of what his life was like. And I'll tell some of the Freudian interpretations of the book, which are really hysterical. One says that Alice is a phallic (symbol) and the rabbit's hole is like going into the mother's womb. Carroll would've dropped."
Family past and present is at the heart of Cherylene Lee's "Wong Bow Rides Again," opening Wednesday at East West Players.
"It's based on the life of my great-grandfather, who arrived here from China in 1849 when he was 12," said the Bay Area-based playwright. "He came to work in the gold mines, but he was too small. So he ended up as a houseboy for a white family, where he learned to speak English. At 19, he ran away and lived with the Yurok Indians for seven years, had a wife and two children--then decided to move on. He broke horses, ran a pack train. When he was 50, he married my great-grandmother."
Contrasted with Wong Bow's life is a modern-day portrait of the family, on a group bus trip to Las Vegas. "The play goes back and forth in time," said Lee. "Doing that, you see the emotional connection of the family: the contemporary situations juxtaposed against what happened in the past."
As for fact and fiction, the playwright acknowleged, "My mother does organize these trips to Las Vegas. . . ."
Newly opened at the Burbage Theatre Ensemble: Philip Reed's "Nightside," a comedy/drama about two reporters working the police room in Chicago.
"The action takes place during the midnight-to-6 a.m. shift," said the playwright who, not-so-coincidentally, has also worked this beat. "The first guy is white, 40, on the down side of his career. The second character is black, young, just starting out. The two of them are crossing paths--in a ferocious Chicago winter, a dead-end room in a bureaucratic building.
"When I was a police reporter, I got to meet this dying breed, the 'dinosaurs. They've been at the paper 20 years, they've got no other place to go--and now the new guys are coming in and looking at them as washed-up old men. Of course, writing about newspapers, you always run the risk of seeming anachronistic, like 'The Front Page.' But here, the primary aspect is the relationship between these two men. The jobs are secondary."
Embryos and adolescents, infants and the elderly--and a lot of stages in between--make up "Lifetimes 10: Writers Play With the Puzzle," a group of one-acts (by the company's Writers' Workshop) opening Friday at Theatre West.
"The framework is the human life span: pre-birth to death," said creative coordinator William Wood. As for the manpower involved, "There are 10 plays, 9 writers, 8 directors and 23 actors. Logistically, this is a producer's nightmare."