Review by Brittany Crowell
“I sometimes look at my boyfriend and think, ‘But will he love me like Calvin loves Alice?’” This sentence, an excerpt from a condolence letter read aloud in Calvin Trillin’s world premiere, About Alice at Theatre For A New Audience (TFANA), encapsulates my experience of seeing the play.
Trillin, a journalist, turned novelist, turned playwright, has written a piece that (in just over an hour) works to commemorate his late wife, Alice. We see how Calvin and Alice met and we see the deep love that they feel towards each other, perfectly encapsulated by actors Jeffrey Bean and Carrie Paff, whose onstage chemistry and honesty brings the entire audience to tears.
In speaking of the dedication of a comic book he published just after the death of his wife, Trillin writes, “I wrote this for Alice.” Then… “Actually, I wrote everything for Alice.”
About Alice is just that – for Alice, about Alice.
And there is a lot to admire in Alice Trillin; she overcame lung cancer, helped her parents through financial crises, turned heads at cocktail parties, and remodeled friends’ homes, all while remaining optimistic and energetic. I left the theater thinking – she’s lovely and I wish I could have met her. The love that Calvin feels for Alice is obvious, but at the end of the piece I found myself wanting more.
There is something really beautiful about commemorating the usual and the everyday, however, this piece didn’t leave any lasting impression on me. I was moved by the love between these two people, but received only snapshots of a life together that didn’t amount to a larger portrait of relationships or society. I left the theater wishing I had read Trillin’s memoir in order to get a fuller picture of his wife that he so loved and admired, rather than seeing snippets of their happiness together played out onstage. I couldn’t help but ask myself, “Why is this a play? What did Trillin’s memoir gain from being put onstage?”
About Alice was expertly performed, and the simplicity of the production elements let the performances and the relationship be the true center of the story. The set by Riccardo Hernandez consisted of two chairs and a long table, there was a cleverly projected backdrop (projections by Elaine J. McCarthy) that beautifully complimented the lighting (by Russell H. Champa), shifting us seamlessly from one memory to the next, and there were two closets, one filled with Alice’s stylish clothes and one with the drinks that Trillin and Alice drank at parties.
For those who are looking to see a story of one man’s love and admiration for his wife, About Alice is a beautiful love letter to a lost soul mate. However, if you’re looking to go to the theater to be challenged, to question, to learn, to deepen, then this piece may leave you hungry for something more. I left the theater knowing that Trillin loves his wife and that he views her as a wonderful woman. The deepest thought the piece gave to me was the hope that I could similarly one day find someone who will feel as strongly and love me as deeply as Calvin loves Alice.
ABOUT ALICE – by Calvin Trillin; Directed by Leonard Foglia
WITH: Jeffrey Bean and Carrie Paff
Sets by Riccardo Hernandez; costumes by David C. Woolard; lighting by Russell H. Champa; sound by Joshua Schmidt; projections by Elaine J. McCarthy; props by Jon Knust; dramarug, Jonathan Kalb; production stage manager, Alexandra Hall; casting by Jack Doulin; general management, Michael Page. Presented by Theatre For A New Audience; Jeffrey Horowitz, artistic director; Robert E. Buckholz, chairman; Dorothy Ryan, managing director. At the Polonsky Shakespeare Center (262 Ashland Place, Brooklyn); 866-811-4111; www.tfana.org; Through February 3. Running time: 75 minutes