nytheatre.com review by Julia Lee Barclay
October 24, 2012
While there are many moments to like in this ambitious piece of theater, which links the stories of Alice (made famous by Lewis Carroll) with Grace Slick’s obsession with the Alice books, whose song, "Go Ask Alice" inspired the title of the (as it turned out fake) memoir of a young woman who dies from a drug overdose, it takes walking through some early missteps to get to the meat of the play.
I will start with the strong points. Kara Lee Corthron’s writing is quite inventive and ties the lives of these three women together in lovely overlapping, contrasting and ultimately synchronized ways. I enjoyed the second half of the play the most, when the three women need to confront one another and the fact that they are “written” characters. Alice is a real girl fictionalized, Grace Slick is a mythologized rock star and Anonymous is fictional but believes she is real and argues her fate with her ‘author’ as does Alice with Carroll and Grace Slick with Paul Kantner her then husband and self-professed creator of her persona. Issues of choice, who writes women’s lives and the reality behind the hero worship of them or their creators is dealt with very well.
The actor who plays Alice, Teresa Avia Lim, stood out as committed to playing a little girl in a convincing, stylized and non-sentimental way. The other actors were all committed to their tasks but Lim was a stand out. Carolyn Baeumler as Grace was quite energetic and convincing in her choices, but because there was an intermission in which a real singer comes up to sing a song with the band (which is the band Tuned-In pretending here to be The Jefferson Airplane), the reality of Baeumler being an actress rather than a rock star was accentuated.
Theater presence in a play like this that is being done, all PR aside, as a traditional piece of proscenium theater, is not the same as rock star presence. This leads to my biggest disappointment, which was that we were seated looking at a performing area created in the corner of a big gorgeous church (Irondale Ensemble’s space in Brooklyn), so any sense that we were at a happening or that we may be disoriented in ways the description of the show I read in advance led me to believe we might expect, was undermined. While at the beginning we walk through some constructions, which are presumably meant to mimic happenings and hear brightly scrubbed 20-somethings say things like “I really want to shoot up some heroin,” it does not convince, especially since we are told where to go at each turn.
The conundrum of how to re-create the 60s has rarely ever been solved, and this show is no exception. I have rarely seen a theater production bring us to a place where so much changed so quickly, and I think perhaps the problem is the attempt to represent rather than embody that disorientation.
Perhaps this is why Alice seemed like the most convincing role, because she is clearly from another era and because none of us in the theater lived then, we can believe that fiction. I am old enough to remember the 60s, albeit as a child, so cannot buy its representation here. Also, I think it is a mistake to advertise this as a happening, when it is in fact a very traditional, albeit inventive and fairly well executed, piece of theater.
However, the underlying structure of the play itself is quite strong and using the tri-fold stories of related semi-fictional/semi-real women attempting to break free from their scripts is a refreshing take on a very old problem.