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  WINDY CITY TIMES

Still Alice
THEATER REVIEW
by Scott C. Morgan, Windy City Times
2013-05-01

This article shared 2864 times since Wed May 1, 2013
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Playwright: Christine Mary Dunford after the novel by Lisa Genova. At: Lookingglass Theatre, 821 N. Michigan Ave. Tickets: 312-337-0665 or www.lookingglasstheatre.org; $36-$70. Runs through: May 19

It can be heart-shattering to watch a once-vibrant friend or relative gradually become a forgetful shell of their former selves due to dementia or Alzheimer's Disease. But what's it like for the person who is directly struggling with the memory loss?

Author Lisa Genova expertly explored a first-person account of a professor dealing with her failing mental faculties in her 2007 novel Still Alice. And now playwright and Lookingglass Theatre ensemble member Christine Mary Dunford has produced a world premiere stage adaptation of Genova's best-selling book that is both theatrical and very emotionally compelling.

Dunford clearly has empathy for the topic, especially since she co-founded The Memory Ensemble with The Northwestern Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer's Disease Center to teach improvisational theater to help improve the quality of life for people with early stage Alzheimer's disease and related disorders. Dunford's experience shows in her clever stage adaptation and her relatively simple staging of it as a director, too.

One of Dunford's invaluable devices is to have the heroine, a Northwestern University professor named Alice Howland who is approaching her 50th birthday, played by two actors. Eva Barr is the literal Alice and Mariann Mayberry is "Herself," a sort of younger, idealized self to speak inner thoughts and to be a version of yourself that you might picture yourself talking to in moments of reflection and solitude.

At first the two seem to work in tandem, but gradually Herself starts to rearrange the modular elements of scenic designer John Musial's stage kitchen to parallel Alice's memory lapses (it's not done out of spite, since Herself also becomes very distraught at all the memory and cognitive lapses that start piling up). Another device that Dunford uses to great effect is to utilize projection designer Mike Tutaj's effects of jumbled street grids and shifting house floor plans to show the helpless disorientation that strikes Alice when she least suspects.

Alice's similarly busy professor husband, John (a solid Christopher Donahue), doesn't initially notice Alice's lapses (especially with his own forgetfulness about misplacing his glasses). But the distressing reality soon creeps in for them, and for their grown children of lawyer Thomas (an upstanding Cliff Chamberlain) and the actress Lydia (a very petulant, but observant Joanne Dubach).

Amid Alice's dilemma's with her memory, she starts to re-evaluate the joys and disappointments of her life, causing uncomfortable pauses when she brings up her unhappiness in lucid moments. Along the way, there's also the issues of suicide, care-taking and deferred career goals that cause Alice's family to fight.

Dunford and her leading ladies all work expertly to show the humanity of Alice, but to also make you feel uncomfortable as you relate what's happening to Alice to possible scenarios for your own family life.

The ravages of aging and death are all facts of life that we must all face up to, and Still Alice works wonders as a drama to show the very human and inevitable dilemmas. As the Lookingglass Theatre's 25th page-to-stage adaptation running during the company's 25th anniversary, Still Alice is certainly a fitting and reflective drama to mark the artistic occasion.

Still Alice

Playwright: Christine Mary Dunford

after the novel by Lisa Genova

At: Lookingglass Theatre,

821 N. Michigan Ave.

Tickets: 312-337-0665 or

www.lookingglasstheatre.org; $36-$70

Runs through: May 19

BY SCOTT C. MORGAN

It can be heart-shattering to watch a once-vibrant friend or relative gradually become a forgetful shell of their former selves due to dementia or Alzheimer's Disease. But what's it like for the person who is directly struggling with the memory loss?

Author Lisa Genova expertly explored a first-person account of a professor dealing with her failing mental faculties in her 2007 novel Still Alice. And now playwright and Lookingglass Theatre ensemble member Christine Mary Dunford has produced a world premiere stage adaptation of Genova's best-selling book that is both theatrical and very emotionally compelling.

Dunford clearly has empathy for the topic, especially since she co-founded The Memory Ensemble with The Northwestern Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer's Disease Center to teach improvisational theater to help improve the quality of life for people with early stage Alzheimer's disease and related disorders. Dunford's experience shows in her clever stage adaptation and her relatively simple staging of it as a director, too.

One of Dunford's invaluable devices is to have the heroine, a Northwestern University professor named Alice Howland who is approaching her 50th birthday, played by two actors. Eva Barr is the literal Alice and Mariann Mayberry is "Herself," a sort of younger, idealized self to speak inner thoughts and to be a version of yourself that you might picture yourself talking to in moments of reflection and solitude.

At first the two seem to work in tandem, but gradually Herself starts to rearrange the modular elements of scenic designer John Musial's stage kitchen to parallel Alice's memory lapses (it's not done out of spite, since Herself also becomes very distraught at all the memory and cognitive lapses that start piling up). Another device that Dunford uses to great effect is to utilize projection designer Mike Tutaj's effects of jumbled street grids and shifting house floor plans to show the helpless disorientation that strikes Alice when she least suspects.

Alice's similarly busy professor husband, John (a solid Christopher Donahue), doesn't initially notice Alice's lapses (especially with his own forgetfulness about misplacing his glasses). But the distressing reality soon creeps in for them, and for their grown children of lawyer Thomas (an upstanding Cliff Chamberlain) and the actress Lydia (a very petulant, but observant Joanne Dubach).

Amid Alice's dilemma's with her memory, she starts to re-evaluate the joys and disappointments of her life, causing uncomfortable pauses when she brings up her unhappiness in lucid moments. Along the way, there's also the issues of suicide, care-taking and deferred career goals that cause Alice's family to fight.

Dunford and her leading ladies all work expertly to show the humanity of Alice, but to also make you feel uncomfortable as you relate what's happening to Alice to possible scenarios for your own family life.

The ravages of aging and death are all facts of life that we must all face up to, and Still Alice works wonders as a drama to show the very human and inevitable dilemmas. As the Lookingglass Theatre's 25th page-to-stage adaptation running during the company's 25th anniversary, Still Alice is certainly a fitting and reflective drama to mark the artistic occasion.


This article shared 2864 times since Wed May 1, 2013
facebook twitter pin it google +1 reddit email

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