When you enter a darkened theatre and hear a resonant male singing voice, regardless of how open minded you are, your brain spins certain expectations and you develop an idea of what you think you are going to encounter when the lights go up. Chances are the last thing you are envisaging is Eff, Adam Lazarus’ foul mouthed, grimacing, legless bouffant creature, who seems to feed off his audience’s discomfort. This is Wonderland, a fascinating ride that seeks to push the boundaries of what can happen in the theatre beyond the realm of the play and into murky unchartered waters.
Lazarus is an incredibly bold performer. He throws every ounce of his energy into unleashing and intensifying all the most grotesque attributes of the human condition, which polite “civilization” and our knowledge and adherence to societal norms has conditioned us to keep repressed and sequestered, often in the deepest, most primal entrails of our being. Yet, Eff is not satisfied simply with exploring his own hindered physicality, his own voice and other bodily functions and his (often) offensive musings about the state of the world. No, he is mostly intent on connecting in a very immediate way with you, the audience. Indeed, it is not Eff, as bold and bouffant as he is, that is so fascinating in Wonderland, but the tension and continually changing dynamics that emerge, entirely different for each performance, between this character and his audience.
Wonderland, which was directed perfectly by Melissa D’Agostino, has a magnificently Brechtian construction, as not only is the audience continually alienated by Lazarus’ continual breaching of the fourth wall convention, but, figuratively, the spotlight is always shining directly on the audience. We are meant to be examining our own response to Eff and he, quite harshly, criticizes our inclination to ignore him, our repulsion of him, and the fact that expressing an honest first impression of another person makes us feel uncomfortable while we consider ourselves to be behaving with more propriety when we are lying. Eff may be a vulgar, repugnant, undesirable creature, but Wonderland confronts the reality that, in judging him as so, in feeling wary and wanting to reject his pleas for love, comfort and openness, we are the assholes. Yet, what is our alternative? Eff also proves that sweet intentions are not always met with respect or limits.
It is to Lazarus’ credit that the audience can be made to feel so alienated and so uneasy and yet, like a horrific car wreck, Eff captivates and compels even the most awkward among them to be fixated on his vivacious, sexually charged free-for-all romp, complete with molesting headless mannequins, humping wheelchairs, singing popular tunes and making insanely strange noises. Oddly, there is a genuine heartfelt component to Eff, that while constantly undercut in caustic cynicism, I think also lures the audience back to Lazarus and makes Eff, although disturbing, also strangely endearing. After all, ultimately, this creature is looking for the same thing we all are, the ability to connect with other people and to feel validated and cared about by them.
As Eff says, “you gotta be original in this life” and Adam Lazarus is certainly one of the most innovative and daring performers that I have seen in this city. Wonderland is a tremendous risk, and one that, while it won’t appeal to all audience members, is theatre that demands a visceral reaction. It makes your heart beat more ardently and engages every ounce of your body, holding you hostage and enthralled until the curtain call spits you back into reality. Yet, even after the lights have dimmed, Eff is a haunting wretch who will likely leave you contemplating your experience long after the magic of the theatre dissipates.