Being a blond, blue-eyed girl named Alice, I was destined to identify with Alice in Wonderland. Not the Disney version—my mother disdained that. Lewis Carroll all the way. We had two nicely bound, gold embossed copies of Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass—red AIW and blue TTLG slid in and out of a shared velvety case. My mother read them aloud to my brother and me and we entered the world of Underground through Tenniel’s classic illustrations and Carroll’s magical prose. I guiltily wished that Tenniel’s Alice were prettier and didn’t have such unkempt hair; I must have imbibed the Disney version of Alice despite my mother’s ban. I have still never seen the Disney version all the way through.
Alice announced in AIW that she was seven and a half exactly, which I remember seemed old, so my mother must have read me the books when I was quite young. For my eighth birthday,my mother planned a costume party where I would be dressed as Alice. We shopped for a light blue dress and I wanted a white pinafore, but instead my mother ingeniously improvised. We found a blue dress with wide strips of lace from collar to waist, and she sewed a half-apron out of sheer dotted tulle that I tied around my waist—voilà, faux pinafore. I’m fairly sure the dress had at least one layer of built-in stiff petticoat. The party in our backyard is documented with photos of me and my third grade friends, dressed as dinosaurs, hobos, Robin Hood, my friend G. in her orange kimono as Madame Butterfly, though none of us knew who the Madame was then. And my older sister in a trim sixties knit top, my brother the lone boy there for the lollipops.
It was hard to believe I was eight, nearly done with third grade, with large adult teeth. I was older than wise, curious Alice in Wonderland, who would always be seven and a half exactly. I felt large. I was taking up too much space. I missed being small next to my mother reading Lewis Carroll. I devoured books on my own, often a book a day, and I wrote my own stories. I don’t know that I consciously missed being close to my mother in this way; I just felt wistful at getting so old.
When I was sixteen I was involved in a Theatre of the Deaf troupe of both hearing and deaf actors. When it came time to put on the production of Alice In Deafinitely, there I was, blond and blue-eyed, with hair to my waist. I got the title role, a hearing girl with a noisy family who wishes herself into a land of silence. The role involved speaking, singing, and signing, with a crazy cast of the White Rabbit, a flower, a mushroom, an evil Red Queen and a savior White Queen, the Mad Hatter, and the Cheshire Cat. The show ran for four weeks and ended up traveling to an outdoor theatre festival at Lincoln Center. My Broadway debut!
I wore another blue and white dress, white tights, and the requisite black Mary Janes. I had a wonderful time—my first lead role, and, though I acted in many plays through high school and college, and a few after college, my only lead role. I was tall, a little awkward, and got typecast as sidekicks and old women. Never the ingenue.
Did I milk this one lead role? I know I enjoyed myself. But I think I felt I got it for my looks and my name, my strong signing abilities, not for my singing or acting talent. It seemed like a fluke. They were producing a wacky deaf version of Alice in Wonderland, and they had a blond Alice. Who else would they have chosen?