According to Trillin’s program notes, aside from the memoir of the same name, Alice’s addresses to the audience are drawn from her essays and letters. Additionally he has used anecdotes told in such books as Alice, Let’s Eat and Alice’s Dear Bruno. The play covers the period starting in 1963 when Calvin meets Alice at a party in New York and concludes with her passing in 2001. Narrated by Bean as Calvin, we learn about their lives and careers as well as Alice’s opinions on food, child rearing, dealing with illness, interior decoration, money and humor. We see them arguing about many of the same issues. Someone once said about them that “They’re like Burns and Allen,” and Alice retorts “Except that she’s George and he’s Gracie” which proves to be true. She is also described as a “dietician in sensible shoes.”
As portrayed by Trillin, Alice is a remarkable person known for helping “anyone she loved, or liked, or knew, or didn’t quite know but knew someone who did, or didn’t know from a hole in the wall but had just gotten a telephone call from because they’d found the number in the telephone book.” She also displays indomitable spirit in the face of the lung cancer for which she was operated on in 1976 and which eventually recurred and caused her early death at 63. The way she dealt with it is an inspiration to us all. We also hear about their bringing up their daughters Sheila and Abigail to be intelligent, compassionate beings.
Bean and Paff have a tremendous rapport, he somewhat wry as Trilln’s writing, she bemused by his pronouncements; he, the fantasist, she, the realist. Described as a beautiful blonde, Paff lives up to that description. However, neither of them seems to age even though 36 years go by in the course of the play’s 80 minutes. The play also seems lightweight as it is very episodic, being told as a series of vignettes. It also doesn’t have a cumulative feeling as it is not told in chronological order but moves thematically or by stream of consciousness association of ideas.
The unit set by Riccardo Hernandez with a table and two chairs cleverly stands in for various rooms and locations but fails to create any atmosphere. Russell H. Champa’s lighting helps with the time shifts. While Bean has no costume changes as Calvin Trillin is onstage throughout the evening, Paff has several attractive outfits each time we see her designed by David C. Woolard, which though classic, also do not delineate the passage of years.
About Alice is a lovely tribute to a remarkable woman who lived a notable life cut short by cancer. As Calvin and Alice Trillin, Jeffrey Bean and Carrie Paff are appealing company. However, the play is Alice as seen through Trillin’s eyes and as such she remains a tantalizing yet mysterious figure always just out of reach. The writing is graceful and witty, though not much of it will stay with you for long.
About Alice (through February 3, 2019)
Theatre for a New Audience
Samuel H. Scripps Mainstage, Polonsky Shakespeare Center, 262 Ashland Place, in Brooklyn
For tickets, call 866-811-4111 or visit http://www.tfana.org
Running time: 80 minutes with no intermission