To the credit of the quirky and dedicated convergence-continuum theater, its productions are usually marked with a surreal quality in character, storyline or both. In its current production, “Lobster Alice,” there are a lot of elements that hold massive potential for this style. Sadly, playwright Kira Obolensky makes little use of the potential in the play’s premise. What could have been a triumph of tensions based on the personalities of the real-life figures, instead is a murky, mediocre script.
“Lobster Alice” is based on actual people and circumstances. Walt Disney sought a collaboration with the larger-than-life artist Salvador Dali on Disney’s iconic and often surreal film “Fantasia.” Although that collaboration did not work out as intended, Disney made a second overture to the eccentric artist as a consultant on “Alice in Wonderland,” which was released a decade later. In contrast to the publicity-seeking, flamboyant Dali, Disney was conservative in manner, appearance and political views. It is this circumstance that is the subject of Obolensky’s play.
Disney does not appear in “Lobster Alice.” Instead he is represented by John Finch, an animator and administrator who is charged with also being the Dali wrangler. Tom Coles is quite successful in the role, rooted in the realities of animation and timetables, and forced to put up with Dali, who seems content to live in his bungalow without producing any ideas, but spouting artistic nonsense. Disney was never overly generous with his animators in terms of workload or credit for the creative process, and the character of Finch is perhaps the most true to character, from what the animators have said about working conditions at “the mouse factory.”
Grey Cross has the enviable role of Dali, and he revels in the character’s quirks. Sporting multiple scarfs in the first scene, he sheds them like a butterfly emerging from a cocoon. The fallen scarves are meticulously replaced with lobsters in a scene change. Utility performer Beau Reinker is a cleaning man who accomplishes this. Later Reinker is seen as a green caterpillar.
Dali is charming to production secretary Alice Horowitz, played with a wonderful character voice by Sara Maria Hess. There’s more than the hint of romance between several of the characters in “Lobster Alice,” and there are some loose ends here as well. Among the show’s moments that ring true are the awkward Monday morning conversations between Alice and Finch about their activities over the weekend.
Director Clyde Simon and his talented cast do their best given the limited possibilities of the script, and the audience on opening night seemed to enjoy the show a lot more than I did. Commenting on the flamboyance of Dali, at intermission one wag in the audience said, “He was kinda like the Lady Gaga of his era.” So true … and also sad that the circumstances that held such promise were reduced to hollow pronouncements of what art is, and an office couch that is the rabbit-hole entryway to Wonderland. “Lobster Alice” performs weekends through April 6 at 2438 Scranton Road, Tremont.