Promotional artwork courtesy Open Eye Figure Theatre
“Are you ready to accept the wildest possibilities...that only the dreamer knows? Everything is possible,” offers Michael Sommers at the beginning of A Hole, a new work by Sommers, produced by Open Eye Figure Theatre and inspired by Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
Our credulity is challenged from then on as we meander inside and outside—literally and figuratively—and imbibe and ingest—again, both literally and figuratively—dining on this extraordinary, highly symbolic, and visceral piece of multi-media, multi-sensory theater. Besides food and drink, we savor puppets, vocals, instrumentals, projected images, animated objects, and Sommers in a curious yet engaging role: plaintive, at times raw and disturbing, ever proclaiming, “We’re going to have fun now.”
“So many out-of-the-way things had happened lately that Alice had begun to think that very few things indeed were really impossible,” reads the book. It’s “upside down,” ”which way is up,” and ”where are we going” in A Hole’s absurdist, dream-like world; you may never know how you’re going to get out, or exactly what it all means and how the parts fit together. Mystery is part of its charm.
For Sommers, Alice is an inspiration and a skeleton on which to hang his own wonderment. We meet Alice, a disheveled doll, a rabbit, and, yes, have a tea party in the garden, replete with madrigal choir somberly marking time: “cuckoo...cuckoo.” Beyond this, A Hole explores life, the dance of dark and light, embracing “simple joys and sorrows,” as the artists’ note states. Simple pleasures, though, seem but a backdrop, overshadowed by the inner landscape of fears and longings, loss, “sin and sorrow,” and regret—”I am sorry” is a refrain. Does the A in A Hole stand for a certain crude slang term? Sommers engages the tough stuff of life.
What might the “experts” say? The psychologist might say that the world-weary artist longs for childhood innocence. The theologian might say that the penitent soul longs for forgiveness yet doubts the possibility. The fun-loving ordinary person might simply wonder: how does he make all those things move, and when can we have another tea party?
What might you say about this profound, cryptic piece? Is Sommers holding up a mirror for us to see (it is Open Eye, after all) and embrace our own nonsense, our dark side? And is there hope, given that “sorrow and sadness will not be forgotten”? Are we like Sommers’s moth, struggling in utter futility to reach the light, blindly hitting the glass pane? Or could it be a transcending butterfly moving towards the light, soon to find the way?
Once again Sommers pushes the boundaries of theater, as he is wont to do, baring his artistic process. At the very least, you’ll be intrigued—I promise. It’s surreal, and it’s real. It’s unforgettable.
As A Hole fades away and the dream comes to an end, I’m left with this question: “Is it possible to live well with the sadness and sorrows embedded in life? Are the simple pleasures enough?” With Alice, and Sommers, I hope that very few things are indeed impossible.
As I left the theater I noticed the languid half-moon hanging above the footbridge and a smoky gray cat moving swiftly but stealthily along a ledge by the freeway wall. Perfect! Half dark, half light, this life, and we make our way as best we can.
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