You may remember Walt Disney as the avuncular fellow who brought you The Mickey Mouse Club and Lady and the Tramp, or as the morally wizened guy who helped the House Un-American Activities Committee do its evil work in the early 1950s.
But either way, you will probably have a hard time imagining Uncle Walt being involved with the wacky and inspired creations of surrealist artist Salvador Dali. Yet they did join forces, back in the 1940s, and that odd but real partnership is the subject of the thoroughly entertaining and endearingly bizarre Lobster Alice by Kira Obolensky, now at convergence-continuum.
Dali was hired by the Disney Studios to create a brief film based on the haunting love song "Destino" by the Mexican composer Armando Dominguez. And playwright Obolensky imagines this eight-month (here shrunk to a six-week) collaboration: the dramatic and outré Dali joining forces with the talented yet buttoned-up lead animator on the project, John Finch.
Finch is also working on the Alice in Wonderland film, and the hallucinatory aspects of that work merge with Dali's fevered images and grandiose personality to fashion a most extraordinary working arrangement.
Although there is plenty of Dali-esque flotsam on stage during the play — an animal skull, a melting (okay, bent) clock, various manifestations of rabbits and lobsters — the play revolves around Dali, Finch, and Finch's assistant, Alice Horowitz. She is peeved by Finch's pinched attempts at igniting a relationship and longs for the rampant passion that Dali exudes from every pore.
Once Dali and his flamboyant mustache sweep into the studio, it's clear that we're not in Anaheim anymore. Dali claims that he is ruled by desire and offers insanely off-center compliments to Alice, to wit: "You have firm turds." Staying on the scatological theme, Dali explains how he tormented his parents as a child by defecating in strange places around the house and amusing himself as they tried to track down the smell.
All this nonsense irritates businesslike Finch, who reminds the other two that, "This is an animation studio, we can't afford to behave like artists!" But Dali persists as the action jumps from week to week and he refuses to participate with Finch in any understandable manner.
As fascinating as the set-up is, this script could easily collapse in a heap of precious nonsense unless it is performed with steadfast earnestness. On that score, this production earns an A-plus. Whether discussing the movements of a jellyfish or dragging a couch into the studio from a suddenly opened wall, the players maintain solid character arcs so the audience can relax and enjoy this flight of fancy.
As Dali, Grey Cross overcomes moments of stiffness to deliver a humorous yet oddly respectful portrait of this artist and provocateur. And he pronounces Dali's gloriously oblique lines ("She is a woman sodomized by her own chastity!") with such assurance that you believe you understand what he is babbling about.
After a wobbly start, Sarah Maria Hess fast becomes an adorable foil as Alice, a woman yearning for connection and willing to do darn near anything to get it. Whether she's Alice the assistant or Alice in Wonderland, Hess combines clear-eyed innocence with a sultry subtext.
Fortunately, Tim Coles is on stage most of the time, providing a solid hub for this wild carousel. Slowly morphing from a three-piece suit to more casual duds, his Finch gamely tries to keep up with both Dali and Alice, and succeeds surprisingly well. All other roles, including a hookah-smoking caterpillar, are played wittily by Beau Reinker.
Director Clyde Simon ties it all together by maintaining a light tone and orchestrating some amazing special effects (such as people emerging from and disappearing into the aforementioned couch).
You can check out the actual "Destino" on You'Tube, because the short was finally completed a little over 10 years ago. It's a wonderful little animation, combining the Disney-style art we know and love with Dali's ferocious imagination.
And this surreal gem of a play serves as a fine companion piece. You may, indeed, feel like Alice at the end of the play when she swoons, "You have baked me too brown, I must sugar my hair."
Through April 5 at the Liminis, produced by convergence-continuum, 2438 Scranton Rd., 216-687-0074, convergence-continuum.org.
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