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Lewis Carrol Society of North America

Spring 2004

Alice in the Shadows
a psychedelic rock n roll shadow play
Part of Celebrate Puppetry Through Shadows
Sat April 24th • 7:30 pm
Tierra Del Sol • Shadow Hills

by Gregory Williams

When the audience arrived for the performance of Maria Bodmann’s Alice in the Shadows, some brought folding chairs and blankets. These supplemented the ones laid out for them by the artist who had additionally placed paperback copies of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland around the area. This was to be a performance that so fully reveled in the Carroll’s words and characters and the audience was encouraged to follow along.

The shadow screen, gaily festooned with flowers around its perimeter, looked like something you’d see at an outdoor movie. This, it turned out, was a totally appropriate as the show took on aspects of film animation with the screen containing the characters and story. The artist had also placed section of chairs on each side behind the screen, inviting the audience to watch the performance from “backstage.” What a curios way to set up shadow show!

It turns out that the shadow artist, Maria Bodmann, was incorporating shadow play traditions from Indonesia, where she studied as a Fulbright scholar. In Indonesia,, the audience is encouraged to watch the performance from both sides to the shadow screen. Having performed traditional Balinese shadow showswith her partner, musician Cliff DeArment for several years, Bodmann’s Alice is her first American story interpreted in ancient shadow traditions. For the Balinese shadow shows, DeArment leads a troupe of gamelan players. For Alice, he leads a band of drum set and electric guitars, again set up directly behind the shadow artist in the traditional style.

The preshow music gave the first glimmer that this Alice would take us to the psychedelic world first encountered culturally in the ‘60s. The incense that Bodmann fired up at the start of the proceedings only added to that feeling. Once the shadows hit the screen, the movement of the characters meshed perfectly with Jefferson Airplane songs that blended equally well with Carroll’s surreal story.

Bodmann has kept the show true to Carroll’s text aside from incidental ad-libs that add immediacy to the proceedings. She does, however, pull the book into three separate episodes arranging flashbacks to other sections of the story. This installment we saw in Sunland dealt the last part of the book. No worry, however, we did get to see the White Rabbit go down his hole in a flashback Alice recounts to her Wonderland friends.

As a performer, Maria Bodmann stands out for her manipulation and voice work. She handles comedy with a flair and, as the only performer behind the screen, voices every single character in a distinct fashion. Her Alice has just the right mix of innocence and spunkiness to offset the insanity of the rest of the characters. From the Queen of Hearts to the Mad Hatter, Bodmann interchanges character voices as adeptly as she changes her shadow characters. Truly her audio part of the show is as superb as the visuals. (She does have two assistants on either side of her to handle that many characters and set pieces that come on and off the shadow screen.)

The lighting was equally excellent. At times, special lighting effects filled the screen with ever-changing amoebas of color and shape. Bodmann’s adept use of shadow puppets created believable morphing as Alice made her startling physical mutations as written by Carroll.

The success of any show is measured by the audience response. In Sunland, the audience thoroughly enjoyed the show. The under ten crowd seemed as transfixed as the adults. One little girl perched upright in her mother’s lap the entire performance. A smile never left her face. Two brothers, eight and six, made sure to run behind the screen at every effect and transition to enjoy both sides of the performance. How perfect is a show that allows children to run circles around it.; they never get restless.

It will be interesting to see the future installments of Bodmann’s Alice in the Shadows. To be sure, I will arrive early with my blanket,, beach chair and a cooler full of refreshment.