Carrollian Gluttony Returns to Bushwick

Amid the competing fragrances lingering around the Jefferson L, one stands out if you’re in the right place on the right night: the unmistakable perfume of a Catholic mass. 

But there is no unfolding liturgy, and the smoldering incense isn’t wafting from a thurible. It’s coming from the doors of Company XIV’s boutique theater on Troutman Street, which is these days welcoming guests into its latest run of “Queen of Hearts,” a provocative reimagining of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” from director and choreographer Austin McCormick. The show returned in March for the first restaging since its 2019 debut, this time with all-new acts, costumes, music and more. 

Make no mistake, McCormick’s theatrical iteration of Lewis Carroll’s 1865 children’s classic isn’t for kids, nor is it for anyone harboring Victorian sensibilities. Though “Queen of Hearts” borrows inspiration from the original “Alice,” it trades pinafores and a plot for sparkly pasties and multisensory suggestion. McCormick, rather than rehash, has instead collected its most iconic scenes and characters and given them the burlesque treatment. The result, as Company XIV fans have come to expect, is gender-ambiguous and quite literally cheeky (expect to see more than a few butts), bringing vaudeville, musical theater and the circus together for a performance that’s as campy as it is spectacular. 

A lot has changed in five years, most notably the addition of several original songs composed by Alexis Lucena, who also goes by Lexxe and who returns to reprise her role as Alice. Ensemble member Emily Stockwell stepped into Alice’s shoes in May, and she stuns on songs like “Blue,” a pop number that accompanies the “Pool of Tears” scene. The track could easily find a home on any party playlist.

Visually, costume and scene designer Zane Pihlström’s handle of artistry is tastefully gluttonous.

The penultimate “Off with Her Head,” also set to new original music, puts Alice head-to-head with the Queen of Hearts (played by newcomer Lindsay Rose) for a sapphic, earth-shaking power ballad. Later she meets the show’s hookah-smoking caterpillar, played by Syrena, who deserves a nod for her expert multitasking if nothing else. The singer and belly dancer executes perfect operatics while shimmying across the stage and taking puffs from a towering headpiece. The ensemble has some fun with cake too, in the show’s “Unbirthday,” a riff on the Disney version of “Alice” that showcases the handstand and twerking skills of one Phillip Evans, who also goes by the name Phill Von Awesome.

Visually, costume and scene designer Zane Pihlström’s handle of artistry is tastefully gluttonous. A Company XIV veteran, Pihlström seamlessly blends the show’s overall Rococo frivolity with fetish elements and the outcome feels something like the love child of Vivienne Westwood and Sir John Tenniel; or maybe if “Eyes Wide Shut” and Sofia Coppola’s “Marie Antoinette” did mushrooms together at House of Yes.

Pihlström doubles as a master when it comes to scale, from a giant teapot that wobbles through the audience to the billowing dress that expands when Alice grows to nine feet tall. No detail feels too small: from a ship’s anchor dangles an aerial-adept merperson over the audience during “Blue,” and throughout the show’s 11 o’clock number, sprinkling the stage in glittering confetti. 

True to Company XIV’s reputation for indulgence, theatergoers who purchase the premium “champagne couch” seats, sold in pairs at the higher end of the ticketing spectrum, are given a pair of cake pops, held by lanterns and dropped about half an hour into the show. The brut and black leather loveseats also come with, unsurprisingly, a half-bottle of chilled champagne, bringing the curiosity of an 18th-century English tea house into the Bushwick nightlife, at least for a little while.  

“Queen of Hearts” runs Thursday-Sunday evenings through August 25 at 383 Troutman Street and tickets generally run $92.50 to $499, depending on the seats.You can find them here. 

Photos taken by M.E. Lewis for Bushwick Daily.

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Mary Ellen Cagnassola
Mary Ellen Cagnassola
Mary Ellen Cagnassola is an award-winning reporter with a flair for creative nonfiction and a love of all things strange and unusual. Born and raised in the Garden State, she is currently trying to have it all in New York City.

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