As you take your seat at Shaking the Tree's warehouse, a ripped dude in a bunny mask texts while hopping up and down the stage. It doesn't make immediate sense, and though you'll never truly understand what's going on, that's the point.
There are no acts and there is no intermission; there is no plot. An offbeat meditation on Alice in Wonderland devised by actor Matthew Kerrigan and director Samantha Van Der Merwe, the production relies on stream-of-consciousness storytelling divided into standalone vignettes. Somehow, the disjointedness manages to be comforting.
In the beginning, Kerrigan—who embodies all of the show's characters (minus Alice, who makes a brief appearance at the end)—sets off on an interpretative dance sequence. Kerrigan juggles pastel teacups and plates, anxiously stacked atop each other. Just a few minutes later, he's sitting on a box center stage, shifting his position back and forth in a clockwise rotation after reciting a series of dramatic phrases, such as: "They all knew I was gay because of my voice."
The homosexual undertones are soulful additions to the show, even if they're never fully realized. Kerrigan eagerly shifts the pitch of his voice throughout his scenes, appearing either more or less flamboyant. Once, he falls into a velvet curtain, unveiling a full-fitting ballroom gown that he slips into. Kerrigan then enters full queen mode and encourages—even forces—audience members to take selfies with him in an attempt to balloon his social media presence.
Only one other character is featured in the show, and she arrives in the form of a small girl (Daeja Paschoal-Thiem and Celia Wood) who plays Alice. She ominously invites the audience backstage for a tea party.
Here, we find the Mad Hatter's table and a confrontation spoken in jibberish between Alice and Kerrigan (now the Hatter) over her general absence from the show. Alice responds by drawing on a nearby wall, and there is an implicit cue for the audience to follow her lead. The takeaway: make art, not war. Or better yet: When you're surrounded with chaos and confusion, you can always use creativity as your sanctuary.
Though We're All Mad Here's political intent is very subtle, it comes at a time when many Americans feel divided and unsure of our leader's ethos. Kerrigan and company capitalize on this confusion by offering their audience a rabbit hole that acts as an escape hatch. Suddenly, we're so entrenched in our fairy tale that once again we're kids bored by the news.
SEE IT: We're All Mad Here plays at Shaking the Tree Theatre, 823 SE Grant St., shaking-the-tree.com. 7:30 pm Thursday-Saturday, 2 pm Saturday-Sunday, through Feb. 25. $10-$25.