WONDERLAND, by Gary Graves, directed by Jan Zvaifler at Central Works in Berkeley

                                                                                      John Patrick Moore as Joseph K.

“Wonderland” is Central Works’ 2019 Season opener and 62nd World Premier!  Written by Gary Graves, who is the company’s co-assistant director along with director Jan Zvaifler, the play is an “Alice in Wonderland” and Kafka’s “The Trial” mashup.   It is Graves’ most imaginative and surrealistic play and possibly his best- at least- of his others I’ve seen.   Graves cleverly integrates today’s news, “fake news,” political climate, and absurd statements into his script, using his characters to convey the timely issues.

A flummoxed, disheveled,  and disoriented “K” aka Joseph Kaye (a terrific John Patrick Moore), in slacks and pajama top,  finds himself in a white carpeted, bare room with a large portrait of the US’s first president over the fireplace at the far end. He has not a clue as to why he is there or for what?  The play features many surprises and twists which keeps the audience engaged, such as characters suddenly appearing.  A bespectacled man in  a business suit and vest (a perfectly cast, wonderful Clive Worsley), whom we later discover is Rabbit, hurries through, loudly muttering curses to himself, ignoring K’s pleas for an explanation for why he’d had a bag thrown over his head and abducted.   He ignores K and exits.  Next is “A” a young, slight woman in skirt, flats, and blouse (an excellent Martha Brigham) who chats with K, but she, too, avoids any explanation.  Turns out she’s an intern hoping for a promotion and paying job.  K guesses he may be in some secret room in today’s White House.  He tells A he feels he’s being secretly watched by someone peering through GW’s eyes. Weirdly enough, the more we looked at the portrait we got the eerie feeling that we, too, see his eyes move, watching us.  Soon a stately, composed, business woman enters.  She is The Duchess or The Red Queen, beautifully portrayed by Kimberly Ridgeway.  She wears a tailored maroon suit and heels.  She, too, also ignores K’s questions, explaining nothing, revealing nothing, yet her enigmatic mile, a cross between Mona Lisa and the Cheshre Cat, says a lot.  She offers K a drink. Though there are three exits, and K is not physically or verbally threatened or warned not to leave and although it’s not stated, we get the feeling that K is afraid of what he’ll find on the other side if he does.

It is revealed that those who may shed light on K’s predicament are at a Tea Party, hosted by the never-seen Mad Hatter.  References are made to the Anonymous Tiimes Op Ed.  Did A write it? And the Deep State, a clandestine organization that plans to overthrow the current leader but smartly avoids details and specifics.  Also the grisly ending subtly suggests how someone was removed from power.  This was truly dark,  involving a set of graduated luggage wheeled on to the set at various times by A, The Duchess, and Rabbit.  There’s a funny, but still horrific and unsettling bit concerning arguments over who gets what cars in which to load the luggage and dispose of them.  I saw it as a reference to the unfortunate fate of the late Arabic Washington Post reporter, Jamal Kashoggi, others thought it was 45, the US current president aka The Mad Hatter.

Left: Kimberly Ridgeway as Duchess

I found that K’s arguments with the others, i. e.: “Why am I here?”  “Who are my captors?”  “Why can’t I leave?” repetitive.  Also, the dialogue was  interrupted too often                by characters shouting “Shut up!”   It seemed the momentum of the play slowed at times when A or Duchess suddenly launch into some dream or vision- past or future- they’d had.  These elements are minor compared to the whole of this imaginative, surreal play that truly takes you out of your comfort zone.  Another plus is that no names are named, no specific incidents  are alluded to, all is left to the imagination.

“Wonderland” is ninety minutes long with no intermission through March 17th .  Shows are mostly sold out, so get your tickets now!  Go to CentralWorks.org for tickets and information.  Central Works is located in Julia Morgan’s historic Berkeley City Club at 1215 Durant @ Shuttuck.  BART, AC Transit.