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Lobster Alice

Tis the voice of the lobster, I heard him declare,
You have baked me too brown, I must sugar my hair.
from Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

Here are a few of the headlines: Salvador Dali, Madcap Artist; Making Sense of No Sense; Putting the 'F' back in Art -- Finch I love your country. ---Dali

Noah Wyle as Salvador Dali
Dali and Disney, what a perfect fit! They thought so.

In 1946 Walt Disney commissioned Spanish avant-garde artist Salvador Dali to create an animation based on one of his songs. Dali spent six months in Hollywood and playwright Kira Obolensky has taken a leaf from his surreal book in imagining the sub-text in this sparkling production at The Blank Theatre Company in Hollywood.

Dali is the only historic character in the play and is played by Noah Wyle who looks amazingly like him, slim, moustachioed, with an aptitude for recreating Dali's manic wide-eyed stare. He alternates flaming artistic temperament with a gentle astuteness towards the fictional John Finch (Nicholas Brendan), an assiduous animator and company man, and a cooing wooing of his bright delicious secretary Alice Horowitz (Dorie Barton), who relishes the world only when it's interesting.

Barton opens the play and her mobile expressions and vivacity set a comic tone that is its keynote. She also sets the period when she tells a phone caller that she went to a party where the typical question was "What's a pretty girl like you doing with a job?" and laughs as she recalls the first thing she did after the party was light up a cigarette. She had a date with her boss, John Finch, which so terrified him that he has pretended to be engaged ever since. He apologizes for behaving like an animal. When she tells him he was a mouse, Finche defensively retorts "A mouse is an animal!"

Interesting enters with a capital "I" in the person of the dashing devilish Dali, predictably unconventional, who drives Finch to expostulate"This is an animation studio! We do not, can not behave like artists here!" Later the playwright gives Finch a defense of animators as artists that doesn't impress Dali as much as it hopefully will the audience.

This is really Finch's coming of age story as he flails between the two Big Ds in his life. Paradoxically he's animating Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland without any sense of wonder. Even Walt notices. He finally succumbs to his attraction for Alice who is having a whirl, not only through her acquaintance with Dali and his friends, but with the ghost of her late lover Thorton. She even gets it on with an octopus.

If Dali's purpose is to shake the office up, he succeeds in making Finch appreciate Dali's elastic thought. Finch realizes what Dali is after is to ""put two things together in such a way as to change both forever" whether this refers to elements in his paintings or relationships between his co-workers.

The amazing thing about Obolensky's play, with an assist from Robert Prior's Dali-esque murals, is that when they are revealed, much of Dali's work makes perfect sense. That malformed clock which represents Western Man's melancholy obsession with time, the telephone that sits on top of a woman's head instead of a hat, female body parts assuming individual importance in their own right.

Daniel Henning's direction takes its cue from that "Madcap" headline without becoming manic. He leads John Finch, played with stolid lunacy by Nicholas Brendon, off the straight and narrow down this particular rabbit hole, with bright careful attention to Obolensky's themes and darts. Robert Prior's costumes are the kind of vivid costumes Dali wore for every day. Jaymi Lee Smith provided a versatile lighting design, complemented by Disney-esque music in Warren Davis's sound design.

Obolensky's flair for humor and her playfully surreal duel between Art and Commerce overcome occasional predictable moments. It's a comedy funnier than most of what the Disney machine strove for with a nod to one of the 20th century's most unique artists. "What do you do when you are awake?" Dali wonders of those who live robot-ized lives. That's the crux of Wonderland.

For a review of the Off-Broadway premiere half a dozen years ago go here.

Playwright: Kira Oblensky
Director: Daniel Henning
Cast: .Dorie Barton (Alice), Nicholas Brendan (Finch), Noah Wyle (Dali), Michael Grant Terry (Thorton)
Set and Costume Design: Robert Prior
Lighting Design: Jaymi Lee Smith
Sound Design: Warren Davis
Running Time: One hour 40 minutes, no intermission
Running Dates: July 29-September 3, 2006
Where: The Blank Theatre Company, 2nd Stage Theatre, 6500 Santa Monica Blvd, Hollywood. Reservations: (323) 661-9827.
Reviewed by Laura Hitchcock on July 29.

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