Green, leafy bamboo stalks and a simple white house covered in cherry blossoms fill the stage, which is lit softly in blue hues. All of a sudden, a white rabbit runs across the stage, and the theater transforms into Wonderland.
Columbia Blue Glaze Theatre presented Jason Pizzarello’s “Alice in Wonderland” on Dec. 2, 7, and 8 in the Glicker-Milstein Theatre. Directed by Kalina Ko, BC ’21, and produced by president Crystal Xie, CC ’22, and Sylvia Su, BC ’22, CGBT brought a beloved tale to life by incorporating aspects of East Asian culture into the production.
Founded in 2014, Columbia Blue Glaze Theatre is a student-run theater group that mainly focuses on highlighting Chinese culture. CGBT is composed of current students as well as artists from all over New York City.
The group’s production of “Alice in Wonderland” will be the first performance since the fall 2018 production of “99 Women.” In an effort to increase the diversity of the group, which consisted of predominantly Chinese students, CGBT did not produce a show last semester. It instead dedicated its time to discussing ways to engage more students on campus and advocate more widely for East Asian culture. The group saw some success in its efforts, but it continues to work toward greater inclusivity.
“If the club is run by Chinese people, who produce Chinese shows, which are then watched by a solely Chinese audience, we are not really promoting our culture to anyone else,” Xie said. “The board generally agreed that something must get changed for the club to thrive.”
In this recent performance, Katherine “Kiki” Lee Gonglewski, CC ’23, effortlessly assumed the role of Alice, a character who, like a college student, has to navigate the themes of growing up and uncertainty of life. The play featured Gonglewski and her experience as Alice, maneuvering her way through the whimsical chaos of a speedy rabbit, talking flowers, and unusual identical twins. As Alice came to terms with her topsy-turvy surroundings, Gonglewski’s soft vocal tone and gentle, disbelieving facial expressions convey her thoughts and feelings to the audience.
Many moments of the show also provided lighthearted humor that invited the audience to be a part of the story.
In her journey through Wonderland, Alice passes through a chaotic kitchen, where food is thrown together carelessly by the Cook, played by Iris Cai, BC ’22, before wandering into a mad tea party and over to Humpty Dumpty’s spot on a narrow wall. The sassy Humpty Dumpty, also played by Cai, received many hearty laughs as she challenged Alice’s appearance and knowledge.
“You look so exactly like other people,” Cai said, insulting Alice’s 10-year-old ego and know-it-all personality, as the audience erupted in laughter.
Many of the cast members played up to four roles, with the exception of Gonglewski’s Alice; the White Rabbit, played by Xifan Wang, GSAPP ’21; and Second Alice, played by Vivian Lu, BC ’22.
Xingron Chen, a recent graduate of Circle in the Square Theatre School, consistently received applause and giggles for her role as the Dormouse as her character amusingly fell asleep during the mad tea party and during the King and Queen of Hearts’ trial.
Alex Ke, Business ’21, who played the King of Hearts, and Hailun Zhou, a student at The New School, who played the iconic Queen of Hearts, assumed the roles of leaders obsessed with decapitating their servants. Congxu and Zhou also played Daisies during the garden scene, where they swayed like flowers in the breeze before screaming at each other and storming off stage.
Although the set, designed by Bella Tincher, CC ’20, was simple, it enhanced the scenes by keeping the audience’s focus on the characters’ interactions. Notable scenes included the mad tea party, where beautiful arrangements of tea time delectables sat on messily-arranged plaid tablecloths, and bright, flower-covered structures filled the scenes in the flower garden.
For this recent show, the directors and producers chose to incorporate aspects of traditional Chinese culture through the characters’ costumes. Costume designers Lu and Bie Tu Seah, CC ’23, fused familiar costumes with East Asian clothing. Characters wore everyday clothing or traditional Chinese linen dresses and suits, adding finishing touches like papier-mâché rabbit and squirrel hats for the White Rabbit and Old Squirrel, flower crowns and feather boas for the flowers, and a wide, toothy grin painted on Wenxi Han, CC ’22, to resemble the Cheshire Cat’s smile.
“They are the products of designers who have their own takes on East Asian cultures, who decide when and when not to incorporate certain visual elements,” Xie said. “The team wants the audience to see the beauty in East Asian cultures in the mise-en-scène, and I personally think what we have on this show is quite digestible for those not familiar with these cultures.”
Unlike the ending that so many viewers have come to know, Alice doesn’t fully find her way out of Wonderland in this adaptation. Rather, she watches her older sister comfort the Second Alice as she wakes up from a rather frightening dream. Alice observes as her sister and Second Alice run off into the wings, and she puzzles over her identity.
“If you’re Alice, then who am I?” she asks.