FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Alice in Dangerland

The phrase “off with your head” means something real in Palestine.

In the classic Lewis Carroll story, Alice fell down a rabbit hole and saw a world of talking animals, fantastic creatures, and a queen’s kingdom of playing cards. She drank a mysterious potion to fit through small doors, ate cake to cry a river of tears, and discovered the power of the caterpillar’s mushroom. For well over a century, Carroll’s imaginative world invited children to enter a wonderland of their own where their logic empowered more imagination and instilled rebellion against the illogical petty kingdoms of adults.

In Jenin’s Freedom Theatre, the acting school’s production of Alice in Wonderland opened to a full house of appreciative audiences on January 23rd. The Palestinian rendition preserves the European heritage of the production with a twist. The play is a feast of circus acts, odd masks, aerial silk, flying actors, Rock’n Roll, drum beats, white face, flying colours, crawling creatures, head-off-ing contraptions, modern dance, and maniacal laughters. With every moment, danger looms as actors run across and around the stage, fly to the ceiling, and hide in mid air. Often, the speed of the production overwhelms logic creating a bizarre alternate universe.

Director Juliano Mer-Khamis created a production that functions on two levels: the first challenges traditional aspects of camp life and the second is an overt critique of the Israeli occupation. The play begins with a confused Alice in the midst of the proceedings of an arranged marriage. Unable to refuse her potential husband, she quietly submits as the parents celebrate in a mechanical, yet absurd fashion. In the midst of the bizarrely staged ritual, she takes an unidentified drink from a rabbit and travels to a nightmarish wonderland where an oppressed population identify her as their saviour. Alice must convince the people of Wonderland that she is not the awaited one and at the same time, they must realize their capacity to enact their own revolution against the dictatorship of the Red Queen. The production both questions the logic of Alice’s potential marriage and provokes the population to rise against the oppressor.

To accomplish these two overarching purposes, Mer-Khamis presents an Alice who struggles to actualize her agency and a population constantly in fear of the possibility of being executed and remade into hats. The director pushes the boundaries of safety throughout the eighty minute production by creating a seemingly unsafe environment where Alice swings in the air and the caterpillar slides expertly on aerial silk. The stage speedily revolves numerous times making loud noises like an out of control train. Stage fights, at times, appear to be physically painful to the actors. At the same time, this re-imagined wonderland oozes with sensuality, bright colours, singing actors, and cha cha cha! The highly physicalized characters fill the stage in an overwhelming combination which tackles the senses and creates a kinesthetic response in the viewing audience. Ultimately, the production manifests Wonderland as a nightmarish reality contradicting traditional understanding of the!
Carroll classic. Carroll’s tale ends with Alice running off to tea as her older sister imagines Alice’s growth into womanhood and old age. Jenin’s Alice, having just witnessed a revolution, concludes her journey by refusing to marry and a promise to live out her life.

This powerful production is conceptually bold and visually stimulating. It succeeds at communicating its message of a people’s revolution, yet there is a palpable tension between its narrative and its aesthetic. Alice’s antagonist is the sensual red queen of hearts who represents both the tyranny of the oppressor and the master of a world of desire. The queen dances in high heels, sings about love, straddles poles, and swings down rails. By giving the dictator a taste of her own medicine, the people of Wonderland turn this sensual creature into a hat! One must ask whether Mer-Khamis’s choice to create this sensual wonderland agrees with his purpose of encouraging both personal and national liberation. If it does, then we must also ask: Are the oppressors in this production the Israeli occupiers, the camp’s traditionalists, or both? The play begins and ends with the marriage story signaling a clear intention to tackle the issue of Alice’s right to free choice, meanwhi!
le, the chaotic Wonderland combines a vision of an existing violent occupation and an active world of forbidden desire. The givens of the production suggest that Alice must imagine a people’s revolution in her dreams and exercise the right to choose in real life.

The production exposes the theatre”s unavoidable identity crisis, giving every part of it makers space on the stage. Located in the Jenin refugee camp, the Freedom Theatre’s stage space can be likened to a thoroughly European avant guard black box theatre. It operates with multiple Western and Arab funding sources, a clear tilt towards a Western aesthetic, and the aid of a number of foreign volunteers and visitors. The theatre has also been frequently challenged by local elements in the camp since its recent reincarnation, despite its declared principles of grassroots Palestinian activism through its Palestinian founders and local artists. This tension between foreign and local influences can best be seen in the combination of the European story, the Palestinian team of artists, and the Western concert-like aesthetic of production, which occasionally resembles the style of the famed Rocky Horror Picture Show. It is encapsulated in the character of the White Queen, a f!
emale figure trapped in tight white fabric in the far corner of the stage. She moves and dances under the fabric, changing like a chameleon as the lighting changes colour and the body expertly expresses the pain of imprisonment. We see every part of her completely covered up body moving in the background. During the play, one wonders at the boldness of this detailed exploration of the female body in the Jenin refugee camp only to find out that a European female played the part, making one wonder if it was too provocative for a Palestinian actress to play.

The Freedom Theatre and its daring production are both empowering and thought provoking. The power of the production lies at the intersection of the personal and the political. Alice in Wonderland challenged its young actors on a technical level, forcing them to learn everything from circus acts, to dance moves, to an extremely physical acting style. This dangerland allowed them to re-imagine themselves into fantastical avatars from animals to otherworldly creatures. They also enacted a much needed revolution. Whether reality and dreamland can converge offstage remains to be seen, however, there is no doubt that the Freedom Theatre and its Alice are both undeniably here.

SAMER AL SABER is doing his dissertation on palestinian theatre. Samer has been in Palestine the last 6 months.

 

More articles by:

December 10, 2018
Jacques R. Pauwels
Foreign Interventions in Revolutionary Russia
Richard Klin
The Disasters of War
Katie Fite
Rebranding Bundy
Gary Olson
A Few Thoughts on Politics and Personal Identity
Patrick Cockburn
Brexit Britain’s Crisis of Self-Confidence Will Only End in Tears and Rising Nationalism
Andrew Moss
Undocumented Citizen
Dean Baker
Trump and China: Going With Patent Holders Against Workers
Lawrence Wittner
Reviving the Nuclear Disarmament Movement: a Practical Proposal
Dan Siegel
Thoughts on the 2018 Elections and Beyond
Thomas Knapp
Election 2020: I Can Smell the Dumpster Fires Already
Weekend Edition
December 07, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Steve Hendricks
What If We Just Buy Off Big Fossil Fuel? A Novel Plan to Mitigate the Climate Calamity
Jeffrey St. Clair
Cancer as Weapon: Poppy Bush’s Radioactive War on Iraq
Paul Street
The McCain and Bush Death Tours: Establishment Rituals in How to be a Proper Ruler
Jason Hirthler
Laws of the Jungle: The Free Market and the Continuity of Change
Ajamu Baraka
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights at 70: Time to De-Colonize Human Rights!
Andrew Levine
Thoughts on Strategy for a Left Opposition
Jennifer Matsui
Dead of Night Redux: A Zombie Rises, A Spook Falls
Rob Urie
Degrowth: Toward a Green Revolution
Binoy Kampmark
The Bomb that Did Not Detonate: Julian Assange, Manafort and The Guardian
Robert Hunziker
The Deathly Insect Dilemma
Robert Fisk
Spare Me the American Tears for the Murder of Jamal Khashoggi
Joseph Natoli
Tribal Justice
Ron Jacobs
Getting Pushed Off the Capitalist Cliff
Macdonald Stainsby
Unist’ot’en Camp is Under Threat in Northern Canada
Senator Tom Harkin
Questions for Vice-President Bush on Posada Carriles
W. T. Whitney
Two Years and Colombia’s Peace Agreement is in Shreds
Ron Jacobs
Getting Pushed Off the Capitalist Cliff
Ramzy Baroud
The Conspiracy Against Refugees
David Rosen
The Swamp Stinks: Trump & Washington’s Rot
Raouf Halaby
Wall-to-Wall Whitewashing
Daniel Falcone
Noam Chomsky Turns 90
Dean Baker
An Inverted Bond Yield Curve: Is a Recession Coming?
Nick Pemberton
The Case For Chuck Mertz (Not Noam Chomsky) as America’s Leading Intellectual
Ralph Nader
New Book about Ethics and Whistleblowing for Engineers Affects Us All!
Dan Kovalik
The Return of the Nicaraguan Contras, and the Rise of the Pro-Contra Left
Jeremy Kuzmarov
Exposing the Crimes of the CIAs Fair-Haired Boy, Paul Kagame, and the Rwandan Patriotic Front
Jasmine Aguilera
Lessons From South of the Border
Manuel García, Jr.
A Formula for U.S. Election Outcomes
Sam Pizzigati
Drug Company Execs Make Millions Misleading Cancer Patients. Here’s One Way to Stop Them
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Agriculture as Wrong Turn
James McEnteer
And That’s The Way It Is: Essential Journalism Books of 2018
Chris Gilbert
Biplav’s Communist Party of Nepal on the Move: Dispatch by a Far-Flung Bolivarian
Judith Deutsch
Siloed Thinking, Climate, and Disposable People: COP 24 and Our Discontent
Jill Richardson
Republicans Don’t Want Your Vote to Count
John Feffer
‘Get Me Outta Here’: Trump Turns the G20 into the G19
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail