Surrealism is dead, from which “Long Live Surrealism!” does not follow. Movements have their moments; their works can be revived, but their impetus cannot be resuscitated. Dada is as extinct as the dodo, and absurdism (which, by the way, never called itself that) gave Surrealism a different spin. It developed one or several initial absurdities to their logical conclusion, rather than merely piling up dream or nightmare images. Kira Obolensky’s just-opened Lobster Alice is a pitiful exhumation of moldering Surrealism.
The play (for lack of a worse word) concerns the six weeks in 1946 Salvador Dalí worked at “a large Hollywood studio” creating a short, surreal animated ballet to the song “Destino,” a.k.a “You Tempt Me,” in conjunction with an animator, here called John Finch, who was also working on Disney’s Alice in Wonderland. Obolensky’s piece is a speculation on how this attempt was aborted.
Taking place in Finch’s Burbank studio, it is partly the near-realistic story of how Finch and his secretary, Alice Horowitz, shy and clumsy lovers, grope toward a happy ending, with Alice briefly under the spell of the philandering Dalí. Partly, too, it is a hallucinatory phantasmagoria where life surreally imitates art. To be sure, the plastic onstage lobsters derive from the other Alice, yet they, along with a human caterpillar and scenes from Dalí’s paintings, invade the action, or at least the landscape seen through Finch’s picture window.
That nothing much comes of this poleaxed potpourri also has to do with the author’s deadly way with dialogue. Stillborn epigrams, mechanistic wordplay, and numbing longueurs feel like hapless actors’ improvisations. The director, Maria Mileaf, can do little with this, and even such fine old hands as Frances Aronson (lights) and David Van Tieghem (music and sound) are left stranded. The survivors are Neil Patel’s décor, Jan Hartley’s projections, and some of Ann Hould-Ward’s costumes, the others falling short, like Dalí’s mustache, which here is only half of the (sur)real thing.
Reg Rogers is an amusingly bumbling Finch, but Jessica Hecht is a bit too mannered as Alice. David Patrick Kelly’s Dalí lacks demonic bravura, and Derek Richardson is saddled with an impossible part. The four artificial lobsters contribute almost as much as the quartet (or quadrille) of live actors.