Jane Allison goes down the rabbit hole. John Allison slips through the looking glass. Or rather a Prohibition era version of rabbit hole and looking glass, as employed in the musical “Speakeasy”, a roaring twenties riff on Lewis Carroll’s Alice books. Carroll’s Alice makes these trips into Wonderland out of boredom and curiosity. For Jane and John Allison there is what scriptwriters often call an “inciting event” which helps propel Jane towards her rabbit hole and John through his looking glass. Jane kisses her neighbor Roberta White. John has sex in a public restroom.
Before these erotically inciting events we have been introduced to John and Jane Allison as a reasonably happy and perhaps sexually naïve newlywed couple. They had already experienced what I jokingly called their first “Twilight Zone” moment, hinting at the Wonderland magical realist fantasy to come, when the crooner Chet Cheshire (“Speakeasy’s” version of the Cheshire Cat) is heard singing the song “Keep Me Warm” on the radio, while the audience is treated to a quick theatrical montage of John’s day at work and Jane’s day alone at home.
“Keep Me Warm” is a song that I had rattling around in my imagination for many years, one of the “Orphan Tunes” that helped inspire the writing of “Speakeasy”. It very much sounds like a song from the 1920’s employing language in the lyrics typical of that era. But these lyrics are rather more explicit about cruising for one night stands than even Cole Porter would have dared to detail in those days (although Porter’s sly lyrical evocations of alternative sexual behavior is certainly an inspiration to me; all hail Cole Porter!).
Keep Me Warm
Lyric excerpt from “Keep Me Warm”:
I FOUND MYSELF WAND’RING ALONE IN THE DARK
UNTIL I WAS SUDDENLY STRUCK BY THE SPARK IN YOUR EYES
A LOOK THAT SAID IF WE ARE BOLD TODAY
WE COULD KEEP ALL OF THE FEAR AND THE COLD AWAY
AND IF WE DON’T SPEAK WE’LL BE TELLING NO LIES
I DON’T NEED TO KNOW YOUR EVER AFTER
I DON’T EVEN NEED TO KNOW YOUR NAME
I JUST WANT TO HOLD YOU TIGHT
THROUGHOUT THE NIGHT
TO KEEP ME WARM
Chet’s singing frames Jane and John’s day as well as underscores those fateful two “inciting events”. Jane is home alone lying on the couch listening to Chet on the radio when her flapper neighbor Roberta White (“Speakeasy’s” version of the White Rabbit) visits her with a flask of hooch. They both start dancing to the music and then clasp hands in ballroom hold. Meanwhile John is on his way home from work. As he exits the subway a stranger catches his eye, and John follows him into the public men’s room. Jane and Roberta dance closer and more sensually. John joins the stranger in a stall. The man gives him a blow job. John is startled but doesn’t resist. When Chet reaches his highest notes on
I JUST WANT YOU HERE TODAY
TO CHASE THE GRAYING CLOUDS AWAY
Jane kisses Roberta deeply and John climaxes in the stall. As Chet’s vocals fade away on the repeated “keep me warm”, both couples slowly, awkwardly disentangle.
Roberta suddenly realizes she is late for an important date with her friends at the Wonderland nightclub and rushes out of the apartment. Jane runs after her. John watches the stranger clean up and courteously depart the men’s room. But when John gets up the nerve to leave the bathroom too he sees a policeman stare at him from the subway platform. In a panic, John retreats back inside.
Jane follows Roberta into the streets and down an alley staircase into a hidden basement entrance Roberta disappears behind. Jane knocks on the door, assuming it is the entrance to a speakeasy, maybe even the Wonderland speakeasy itself. Meanwhile John is staring at his reflection in the bathroom mirror, saying: “What did you do? Who do you think you are?” He leans into the mirror and slides right through the mirror pane into the space behind. John has gone Through the Looking Glass.
The eye-slit of the basement door opens and Jane babbles on about Roberta and the Wonderland and secret knocks to enter speakeasies until the door finally opens for her. She goes in. And now has gone Down the Rabbit Hole.
Once on the other side of the mirror, John looks about. He sees the bathroom from his opposite vantage point. But the entrance of the policeman into the men’s room spurs John away from the mirror. He winds up walking down the narrow corridors of a strange, mirrored labyrinth. His upcoming experiences will closely mirror Alice’s journey in “Through the Looking Glass”.
Once on the other side of the door Jane finds herself alone in a strange foyer. With several more doors and keyholes to look through, including a view of the Wonderland nightclub that entices her to move on (in “Alice in Wonderland” it is a keyhole view of the croquet garden that serves the same purpose). A magically appearing bottle “Drink Me” will help provide the means to further exploration. Jane’s ensuing adventures will closely follow those of “Alice in Wonderland”. But eventually John and Jane will meet…
To read more about the musical “Speakeasy”, check out all the articles listed in “The Speakeasy Chronicles” category tab to the right. The Speakeasy Demo recordings can be accessed here.