Swirls of black and white circle against the wall, shrinking infinitesimally small and disappearing into nothingness; two clouds of green and black float precariously, threatening rain; and a woman dressed in white and black kneels before a participant, her left ring finger touches his right sneaker. The White Rabbit claps his hands together: That’s it! You’re married, Chesh! How does it feel? The Cheshire Cat responds: I… I don’t know. Her response is curious, inquisitive. Why don’t you try it and see if you like it? So, the White Rabbit, in his pristine white coat and trousers, jumps down to his knees and touches his finger to the participant’s shoe. Ohh… I think I like this. And I find myself thinking the same thing about my time in Wonderland, in The Unbrunch.
Cinereal Production’s The Unbrunch is a multi-hour experience in Chelsea, New York, exploring the world of Alice in Wonderland with staggered start times and a single end-time. Unlike NYC mainstay Then She Fell, The Unbrunch places its focus on the nonsensical and absurd characters and the decadent surrealist world that they live in. Taking a page from Sleep No More, the experience takes place across five floors, giving audiences a sandbox to explore and play in – with complete freedom to stay on each floor as long as they wish. Each floor is themed as a different layer of Wonderland, and offers unique craft cocktails and small bites, further rewarding exploration. With tons of hidden secrets, one-on-ones to unlock, and brunch offerings to enjoy, The Unbrunch is a delicious afternoon of immersive discovery.
While the main New York immersives focus on near-silent dance choreography, The Unbrunch rises above with exceptional writing from Devin Compton. Not only is each character brought wonderfully to life, but each floor of Wonderland is given a unique and memorable tone. The second floor is rife with conflict and petty squabbles, but also bursting with music, singing, and dance numbers in which the entirety of the room is encouraged to join in. The Red Queen resides on floor three, ensuring that perpetual entertainment and skits can be found here – or else someone will be beheaded. The fourth floor is full of trouble, from mischievous Bill to the dazed Unicorn to the dashingly sly Fox; this floor is exceptionally fun and quite drug-fueled. Finally, the fifth floor, first floor, and backyard hide some wonderful secrets for those bold enough to seek them out.
As with any sandbox experience, participants are given free rein to explore, and interaction favors the bold. Guests are encouraged to explore, but ultimately, will gravitate toward the floor that best suits their personality. By forging relationships and interacting with the characters, guests have a stronger likelihood to be pulled into one of the many side rooms for a one-on-one. While the dress rehearsal I attended had roughly fifty people in it, ensuring that all audience members had intimate and personal experiences, the actual run is expected to house between one-hundred and one-hundred-eighty people. This is my main concern: that the magic of such an evocatively powerful experience may be lost to overcrowdedness and a lack of participant-actor interactions. Even though I wish they could maintain a small audience size, the scale of this performance requires larger audiences to be sustainable.
But don’t fret, the pedigree of the actors in the cast will evoke emotion and create a memorable experience, even on a sold-out and full night. With over six actors from Sleep No More’s ensemble, plus numerous others with equally strong backgrounds, it’s no wonder the style feels like a remix of Sleep No More’s structure. I spent most of my time on the fourth floor. The rebellious Bill (Kelly Bartnik) was infectious with her innate ability to prevaricate and provoke. The Fox (Tariq Malik) was dashingly charismatic, luring guests in to join him for some Crystalline, Wonderland’s drug of choice. And Kate Harpootlian as the Unicorn was blissfully dazed and an absolute dream to engage with. This trio played off each other wonderfully, allowing for a playground of adult fun with no consequences.
On other floors, the Dormouse (Brian Williams) and March Hare’s (Riley McFarland) tumultuous relationship provided some fun drama and playful bickering – and some wonderfully performed songs by Williams. Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum (Ken King and Luke Hamilton) were perfect in their roles: boyishly charming, eager to please, yet so endearingly absurd. Plus, their ability to speak in sync was a treat. Alice (Amy Miyako-Williams) played the part with such wide-eyed curiosity that all guests will want to discover Wonderland right alongside the doe-eyed brunette. The Red Queen (Kat Cunning) expertly teetered between playful and dangerous, enticing just the right balance of allure and fear. Finally, Mallory Gracenin was graceful and endlessly memorable as the Cheshire Cat. If you’re lucky enough to find her and the White Rabbit (Tony Bordonaro) and join them for a guided meditation, or a wedding ceremony, or whatever else their joined creativity unfolds – you’re in for an absolute immersive treat.
The set is gorgeous, opulent, and perfectly surreal. Taking place at the exclusive The Norwood Club, Cinereal Productions did not need to alter much to ensure the home felt like Wonderland. The location is modern, filled with luxurious Victorian seating, trees growing out of the ceiling, and enough abstract art for onlookers to discuss to no end. Decadently dramatic crimsons match the red heart of the Queen, the back patio is as colorful and beautiful as the Caterpillar himself, and the bar is prominently in the center of the fourth floor – ensuring that everyday will be Wonderland there. The Unbrunch would feel very different anywhere else – but luckily, their location elevates the experience into a modern, stylish take on Wonderland, sure to be one of the most unique takes on Lewis Carroll’s classic for a long, long time.
I would be amiss not to mention how perfect the costumes are, all sourced by Artistic Director Billy Bell and supervised by Lydia Frantz. To match the extravagance of the location, the wardrobe of each character is dapper and stately. All the men are in wonderfully styled suits that fit their personality: from the Walrus’s brown suit and bowler hat to Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum incorporating bits of the other’s suit to highlight their sameness (and they’re wearing shorts, creating such a boyish charm to these two). The Red Queen is royal and beautiful – and Bill exudes her anarchy in her plaid suit, open enough to reveal her midriff. The Fox and Unicorn stepped out of the ‘60s in slim suits and decoratively frilled, all-white outfits. And finally, Alice looks pure and innocent in a ‘50s-inspired poodle skirt and embroidered white button-up.
Finally, while the dress rehearsal lacked the food of the final performance, we were told that the experience will have wonderful food prepared by Norwood Chef Carlene Nelson. Guests buying a standard ticket will enter at their ascribed time and be allowed to purchase small bites, craft-cocktails, beer, wine, and of course, tea on each floor. However, for those who want a little more time in Wonderland – they may make a brunch reservation, which includes two complimentary drinks and a seated brunch hosted by select residents of Wonderland with early entry into their world. Thus, the experience is tailored to those who want to make a day of it, but also for those who want to forgo the food and just experience the pure immersive magic inside.
Cinereal Production’s The Unbrunch is the next generation of immersive theater in New York. Expanding on the giants of the past, Cinereal innovates beyond previous styles, incorporating strong narratives, memorable characters, and evocative scenes to create an experience that will stick with audiences far beyond the end of their time in Wonderland. The combination of food, drinks, and immersive theater is worthwhile, but the real treasure here is the strength of the cast, the gorgeous location, and the story. I loved it – and next time I’m in New York, this will be the first Wonderland I return to.
The Unbrunch is currently booking Saturdays through November 30th. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit their website, Facebook or Instagram. Make sure to subscribe to our Event Calendar for more immersive events throughout the year.