How far would you go to rescue what you’ve lost—be it a watch, an hour, or sanity?
Directors Colin Hovde and Nathaniel Mendez and the superb company of actors deftly blend humor and horror to produce an awesome piece that leaves everything on the stage—challenging the audience to confront the worst of human tendencies and maladies with tenderness.
Lisa (Karina Hilleard), a guitar-strumming English girl, is treading through a thick life-fog when watch-maker Victor (Elliot Bales) turns up to tell her that it’s not her watch that’s broken: it’s her life. She’s lost an hour—her rightful hour—and must retrieve it from the Wonderland-esque Dissocia, only reached from her flat-cum-lift.
Down the rabbit-hole Lisa goes, venturing into an absurd reminiscent of the greats (Monty Python,The Princess Bride, and, of course, Alice in Wonderland). She encounters the type of uncommon, non-sensical characters only pure imagination can conjure–“Insecurity” guards (because, well, “if it’s secure, why would you have to guard it?”), neurosis in human form, and an Oath taking procession.
Forced to pledge allegiance to Dissocia, which has lost its Queen in a siege by the “Black Dog King,” Lisa confronts her deepest fears and decides the fate of the land at the close of Act 1 in an epic battle Shakespeare Theatre would gladly steal.
Co-directors Hovde and Mendez have captured the beauty and heartbreak of Anthony Neilson’s comedy-drama. Perfectly. They hit all the right notes while orchestrating a melody that toes the line between euphoria and sadness.
Neilson’s The Wonderful World of Dissocia is whimsical, off-kilter, and disturbing in a fantastically honest way. But, most importantly, it’s brave. Brave for treading in taboo territory—mental illness, rape—never fearing to use both humor and brutality to goad an audience to think and empathize. Because Dissocia is all in Lisa’s head.
The pinnacle of her journey unfurls in a forest, where after dancing merrily, she happens upon a “scape” goat (Adi Stein). He seems kind enough until he learns of Lisa’s quest.
Dissocia’s whimsy melts away (but not its irony) as Jane (Lisa Hodsoll), a ‘victim surrogate,’ steps into Lisa’s place as the goat turns violent. Lisa, emotionally shaken, turns from the scene and is scooped into the arms of (ta-da!) a Polar Bear (Ben Chang). Every child has held a stuffed animal in times of trouble and, somehow, it feels truthful that every adult wants the soft, plush arms of their once consoler, confidense and security wrapped about them even now.
Not to wallow in despair for too long, Lisa is whisked away and dropped at a hot dog stand, but it’s hard to get away from the trauma inflicted by the goat, even as the cast chows down on franks.
Karina Hilleard performs the psychologically unstable Lisa as an everyday girl with only the usual problems at her feet. It’s a refreshing look at how those with mental illness both suffer and cope. Her performance is only topped by Adi Stein’s shockingly, casually cruel goat—he made my skin crawl (and I think that’s what he intended).
THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF DISSOCIA
Closes June 28, 2014
Theater Alliance at
2020 Shannon Place SE Washington
Thursdays thru Sundays
With little other than a big, open space, stellar actors, and dramatic lighting, they paint a dreamy, water-colored world that feels magical and haunting simultaneously. Suggestive details abound—from the white rabbit bow tie that Victor wears in the opening to the book (Gone Girl) Lisa is seen reading—that hint about Lisa’s state of mind in both the surreal Dissocia and reality.
For anyone who’s ever escaped to a place present only in their head, The Wonderful World of Dissocia speaks volumes about the fragility of identity, trauma, and mental illness.
And it’s ending—a hushed coda worthy of a Beethoven symphony—is soul affecting.
The Wonderful World of Dissocia by Anthony Neilson . Directed by Colin Hovde and Nathaniel Mendez . Featuring Karina Hilleard (Lisa), Elliot Bales (Victor/Argument/Nurse), Carlos Saldana (Guard/Vince/Inhibitions), Luke Cieslewicz (Guard/Laughter/Faraday), Dave Gamble (Oathtaker/Ticket/Clerk), Carolyn Kashner (Britney/Nurse), Adi Stein (Goat/Biffer/Nurse), Lisa Hodsoll (Jane/Dot), Ben Chang (Oathtaker Attendant/Polar Bear/Violinist/Nurse), KyoSin Kang (Oathtaker Attendant/Nurse) . Original Music and Sound: Matthew M. Nielson . Sound design: Christopher Baine . Lighting design: John Burkland . Lighting Assistant: Will Wermerskirchen . Set and costume design: Collin Ranney . Scenic Artist: Kelley Rowan . Stage manager: Tre Wheeler, assisted by Jeremy Hunter and Rachel Lau . Produced by Theater Alliance . Reviewed by Kelly McCorkendale.