Reviews - Theatre Reviews

I ♥ Alice ♥ I @ Project Arts Centre, Dublin

Print Ready photo_credit_Emma_Burke_Kennedy

“We will be seen.  They will be seen.”

Back for a limited engagement at Dublin’s Project Arts Centre, Amy Conroy’s moving production I ♥ Alice ♥ I returns to its hometown for another run with specific aims in mind.  Teaming up with Marriage Equality, Conroy’s own HotForTheatre productions is reviving yet another run of the world-traveled piece for just four nights, marking 2015 as the five-year epoch since premiering at Dublin Fringe Festival 2010.  Awards and accolades decorate the show’s success, including a Fishamble for Conroy’s writing.  Yet the story of these two ladies, these two lovers, these two Alices, seems not stale in the least, but as fresh and polished as the day it debuted, and now part of a national movement.

The show sits at a mere 1.5 hours with no intermission, and given the captivating way Conroy and co-player Clare Barrett tell the tale, an intermission is not wanted.  Told in conversational, post-dramatic fashion, the text is lifted from real interviews Conroy conducted with the couple, and the history of the show is entwined with their own.  The two Alices meekly amble onstage and, with hesitance, begin the story of themselves and of their relationship.  The set is a quaint sitting room sparsely populated with photographs, a kettle and tea cups, and a lace-covered table where rest two plates of cakes, befitting a charmingly welcome house where might reside one’s favorite grandmother.  Alice Slattery and Alice Kinsella are soft spoken, older women of Dublin.  Their garb consists of pleated slacks, sweaters, and cardigans, as if Judi Dench’s Philomena were married to herself.

The show’s brilliance lives in its simplicity, and it permeates every aspect of the performance.  The two play up the couple’s adorability, but not to overindulgence.  Barrett’s fussy Slattery cozies Conroy’s frank Kinsella, and their honesty allows us to laugh with them, cry with them, and for a glimmer of a moment, live with them.  Using a center upstage map to guide them through the major moments and dynamics of their relationship, the Alices slowly, yet bravely muddle through ever detail of joy and sorrow with a reticence that belongs to a certain generation.  For the Alices, their generation, time, and place are integral factors in understanding their story.  Their bond was forged in an era which tacitly tolerated their lifestyle, with discretion being the price of admission.  Through decades of shifting tides and attitudes toward sexuality, these women who’ve lived deceptively small lives now find themselves at the forefront of gay rights in Ireland in a big way.

The message of this resonant piece is that theirs is a story not for lesbians, not for gays, nor for any of the sexually fluid.  It is for people.  The opening night house that was peppered with gay and straight couples alike was a testimony to the honesty of the romance these two women have shared with audiences the world over.  Theirs is an experience either shared or craved by many, through all its trials and tribulations.  Who knew that the unassuming older ladies next door have surmounted exes, religion, affairs, and disease?  Their kindly countenance veils a life of experiences that have earned them hard wrought outlooks, and the point of their story is that they are not just Alice Slattery and Alice Kinsella, they are you and me.  The timing of this revival could not be plainer in its meaning.  With a keen eye to Irish history, Marriage Equality recognizes the instrumental role the playwrights can play in the nation’s defining moments and has deftly recalled this piece in an hour of need.

Like Yeats and Gregory’s Cathleen Ní Houlihan, Conroy’s I ♥ Alice ♥ I heralds the arrival of a turning point in the Irish narrative as yet another question of national identity is posed.  How the play will be remembered in this movement will depend upon the answer.  Joe Madsen

I ♥ Alice ♥ I runs at Project Arts Centre from March 18-21. Go here to buy tickets.