It's 10 o'clock on a Sunday morning and rainy outside, a perfect time to retreat to a place like The 40 Thieves Hookah Lounge. It actually smells more like scented oils than the smoke den a novice might imagine. There are cushioned benches against a back wall, and coffee tables inlaid with stone upon which to set one's hookah.
Tammy Smith, however, is sitting on one of the tables, as she sews a black bag.
"It's for the queen," she explains. "When she has people's heads cut off, someone's going to come out and black-bag them and drag them off stage."
And with such a promise, 40 Thieves' transformation from low-key north side hookah lounge to rabbit hole in a world of Wonderland begins to take shape. It seems a bold mission for the debut of Moody Touring Mystery Theatre, which Smith co-founded last fall. But the company's artistic director and producer sees it as a natural one.
"I [thought] it would be really cool to do Alice in Wonderland [at 40 Thieves]," she says, "because of the whole Caterpillar thing."
The Caterpillar's signature line to Alice a hookah-smoke-laden "Who ... are ... you?" is a fitting question to ask of Moody Touring Mystery Theatre, too.
Under the blacklight
Smith graduated from the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs last spring, with a minor in theater, intent on starting her own company. She recruited fellow graduate Cyndi Parr, and the two batted ideas around for Moody Touring Mystery Theatre's debut show. Then, while toking some hookah at 40 Thieves where her roommate and belly dancer Frank Farinaro works this past January, Smith found herself in a place that could easily inspire a new spin on a classic story.
When venue owner Chris Copeland expressed interest, Smith and Parr went to work. They rented costumes from The Classical Academy where Smith works as stage manager and borrowed from Parr's own extensive costume collection.
In just 10 weeks or so, she and Parr got 20 people to volunteer for the production, many solicited either through a classified ad or discovered in the Manitou Art Theater's recent 10 Minutes Max variety show. They're taking on all the typical Alice roles, while also some unique ones.
Three Alices will provide a unique character for each of Alice's moods: Queen Alice, Mad Alice and the basic blue-dress-white-apron Alice. There'll also be ballroom dancers and a mandolin-playing Cheshire cat.
The hookah lounge, meanwhile, makes for a surreal landscape that Parr, the show's director, will fill with black lights. The actors will perform in the expansive space between the bar, where patrons order hookah, and benches against the back wall.
"It's an 18-and-up production," says Parr, noting the age requirement for visiting a hookah lounge. "So we tried to create a show that appealed to an adult audience."
Embracing the madness
That's clear in the liberties taken with the script they based on Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass and Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. They added jokes, more contemporary dialogue and even roundabout political commentary, all the while trying to hold true to the nonsensical nature of Carroll's script, "the madness of the tea party and the madness of the queen," in Parr's words.
"A lot of children's productions take out the parts where Alice is mean," says Parr, who views Alice as "an American tourist in another country."
Perhaps the biggest twist on the classic script: Smith and Parr add in a mystery at the show's end.
As for the Caterpillar himself, that role will be played by Farinaro (who, incidentally, proclaims himself "Colorado's premiere male belly dancer"). In Moody Touring's production, the Caterpillar slightly seduces Alice. Then there's a joke made about how he's not even through his larval stage, as if she's taking advantage of him.
If all this isn't adult enough, drummers and belly dancers will perform while you settle in and purchase flavored tobacco. (Parr recommends a coconut-mint combo.)
"It's fun if people see our concepts in there," says Parr. "But if people just get a fun show with some blacklights and some dancers in a fun environment with hookahs and pillows, we're cool with that, too."