In 1946, Spanish surrealist Salvador Dali was in Burbank, contracted by Walt Disney to create an animated ballet based on the Mexican ballad “Destino.” Kira Obolensky turns this real-life situation into a formulaic screwball comedy in “Lobster Alice,” imagining the free-spirited Dali (Noah Wyle) wreaking havoc on the repressed lives of animator Finch (Nicholas Brendon) and his assistant, Alice (Dorie Barton). Obolensky’s attempts to meld Dali’s flamboyant flailings with the awkward evolution of the Finch/Alice romance aren’t a great success. But helmer Daniel Henning and a committed ensemble pull off a zesty, commedia-style staging, greatly enhanced by Robert Prior’s sets and costumes.
Within Prior’s deceptively claustrophobic small-office setting, Henning thrusts Finch and Alice into a constantly evolving reality wherein their rigid logic and sense of protocol eventually melt like their office clock (as realized in Dali’s “Persistence of Memory”). By show’s end, the thoroughly evolved couple is co-existing quite nicely, surrounded by Dali’s surreal landscapes.
Brendon is a mass of barely contained nerve endings as the animator who must deal with Dali while simultaneously guiding the destiny of Disney’s current project, “Alice in Wonderland.” He makes believable Finch’s eventual emotional explosion, driven by overwork, Dali’s chaotic creative process and the realization that Alice could be the missed opportunity of his life.
Barton’s engrossing perf as a staid ’40s working girl communicates every nuance of Alice’s evolution into a vibrant soulmate. Her facial expressions alone convey Alice’s emotional journey as she is swept along by Dali’s exuberance, yet remains ever mindful of what’s happening to Finch.
Wyle’s accent travels a bit around Europe, but his portrayal of the larger-than-life, self-aggrandizing Dali is a delight. He exudes a well-honed comic timing as Dali deigns to dally with these two callow commoners, whom he truly believes will be enriched by his presence.
Unfortunately, in the text, the Finch/Alice machinations are pedestrian and tedious. Dali’s colorful comings and goings certainly energize the proceedings, but do little to move the plot along.
In a minor role, Michael Grant Terry is properly boyish and exuberant as Alice’s childhood sweetheart.