The Grand Paradise
383 Troutman Street, Bushwick
Third Rail Projects had a triumph with their immersive theater experience Then She Fell, which opened in 2013 and is still running through March of this year. It is an exploration of Lewis Carroll and his feelings for Alice Liddell, a little girl who inspired him to write Alice in Wonderland, and how his obsession with her marked Liddell for life. Staged in a century-old institutional building in Williamsburg, Then She Fell makes you feel like you are being led step by step through Carroll’s overstuffed and desperate brain, and the performers who guide you through the building are so sharp, committed, and menacing that there are many moments they create that break through the artifice of a typical theatrical venture to a reality that is alternately frightening and painful. Then She Fell is an unforgettable experience because it is so relentlessly structured, as compulsively ordered yet free-flowing as a disturbed consciousness.
Because of the high and distinctive quality of that show, there has been a lot of anticipation for Third Rail’s follow-up, which is called The Grand Paradise. One company member said afterward that they had all been working on this production for three years, and so it’s reasonable to expect the same sort of refined madness that animated Then She Fell, but The Grand Paradise, alas, is as vague as that show is laser-focused.
It is set in some loose approximation of a 1970s hedonist resort, which has been constructed specifically for this production at 383 Troutman Street in Bushwick. At the start of the show, audience members are greeted and led into a main playing area where a few copies of Cosmopolitan magazine are strewn around, and then they are made to wait for something to happen for quite some time. Members of the company dance a bit, and then a woman starts to sing, and then there is some more dancing in a different area, and then the audience starts to be led off into smaller and smaller groups, which is how Then She Fell works, too.
The performers each deliver monologues that are heavy on New Age pseudo-profundities on life and death, and they all had moments when they didn’t seem sure about what they were doing or what they were supposed to be conveying, and clearly this wasn’t their fault. All of them worked hard to try to make this evening into something, and they worked hard at being sensual and 1970s-sleazy with each other, but always there was a sense of effort; nothing ever felt truly dangerous, as so much of Then She Fell is.
Of all the performers (the cast rotates regularly), Bryan Strimpel was the most vividly engaged and in period, with his long blond hair and the stoned bad boy look on his face. Strimpel’s character had us sneaking around and stealing from suitcases, and this felt exciting and illicit because it was so active and not tied to dubious Deep Thoughts like so many of the other segments. The Grand Paradise finally doesn’t seem to be about anything, unfortunately, but surely the company that pulled off Then She Fell will do more work that has a similar impact.