Photo courtesy of Syracuse Stage.
Lord knows there have been hundreds of Alices since Charles Dodgson's two fantastical, symbol-laden novels about her almost a century and a half ago -- "Alice in Wonderland" and "Alice Through the Looking Glass and What She Found There" -- and they keep coming thick and fast. I'm not sure the version now at Syracuse Stage completely succeeds, but it's an effort well worth the trip anyway and for sure take along any kids you can gather up, even very young ones.
We know Dodgson mostly for these two books, written under his pen name Lewis Carroll. But he was also a photographer and poet of some note. He wrote down the Alice stories because his young neighbor Alice Liddell, who was ten when he took her and her two sisters rowing on the Thames River in London and entertained them with this tale, asked him to, and the images of Alice herself that we have are those he made.
Depending on the era, there's sometimes a certain slant to the many Alice re-tellings and riffs. When Grace Slick sang, "Go ask Alice" in the 1960s, the reference to psychedelic drugs was obvious. Others are tinged with associations to the real back-story. This Friday, as nearly everybody knows, Tim Burton's screen version of the story opens in wide release, featuring Johnny Depp -- but also framing the story as that of a nineteen-year-old Alice who returns to Wonderland after an apparent flashback jars her hidden childhood memory of the first trip. More pointedly, Melanie Benjamin's novel, "Alice I Have Been," came out six weeks ago, this time imagining how the real-life Alice might look back, as an older married woman, on her childhood relationship with Dodgson. Last Sunday morning National Public Radio carried an interview with Benjamin in which she made much of the speculations still surrounding Dodgson and Liddell's "tantalizing" relationship, which ended abruptly when the real Alice was eleven. She never saw Dodgson again, her mother burned their letters and Carroll destroyed his own diary entries about her. (Listen to this Weekend Edition audio clip at the end of this review.)