BWW Review: WITH GREAT DIFFICULTY ALICE SITS is a Stark Look at Societal Pressures on Women in an Ever-Changing World
WITH GREAT DIFFICULTY ALICE SITS is a new original piece by playwright, Rude Mech company member, and Salvage Vanguard collaborator, Hannah Keenah. This world premiere, produced by Salvage Vanguard Theatre, shows at the Off Center in East Austin. Directed by Salvage Vanguard's artistic director, Jenny Larson, the play follows expectant parents Alice (Hannah Keenah) and Heath (Derek Kolluri) as they anxiously await the birth of their daughter.
At the opening, we see a very pregnant, very fed up Alice trying to perform everyday tasks like getting herself a glass of water or sitting in a chair to little avail. Her doting, buoyant, and somewhat blundering husband can barely contain his excitement over their impending bundle of joy. In fact the more excitEd Heath grows, the more withdrawn Alice becomes. As the story progresses, it becomes obvious all is not as it seems. The baby's birth seems imminent, but despite Alice's extraordinary size (we're talking mega bump) no baby arrives. Time keeps moving forward as the pairs' mental state and surroundings fall into disarray. As a dark cloud settles over the house, you are left wondering was there ever any baby at all?
The show features stunningly executed performances by the entire ensemble. Keenah and Kolluri exhibit a gripping focus as Alice and Heath. Keenah as Alice is commanding and unrelenting. Her physical portrayal of the overly pregnant woman makes one feel a great deal of sympathy for the weight the character must carry (in more ways than one). Kolluri's sudden and severe shift from overexcited, expectant father to a resentful spectator is arresting and heartbreaking. Supporting actors, Renna Larson and Rupert Reyes aid in the storytelling. Larson as Fireclay is fierce, exacting, and ominous, but still maintains a certain level of vulnerability. Reyes' Doctor is an overworked, under appreciated man from days gone by. Reyes also displays an excellent physical performance as he struggles to carry the heavy weight of his medical bag.
Director Jenny Larson has infused this production with exquisite extended moments of silence throughout. When focused and active, these moments transfix its viewers as the actors perform small tasks or simply sit and stare out beyond the audience. There were a few times where these long silences felt disconnected and I was taken out of the moment, but overall this was a great element.
Another highlight were the show's superb technical elements. Stephanie Busings' set design represented a modest, traditional suburban home reminiscent of the living room in All in the Family. I especially enjoyed how the staircase design reflected back to the Abacus Heath brings home near the start of the play. As the characters fall into despair, the set adapts, allowing for some delightfully creepy special effects courtesy of Julia Smith's puppetry. Alyssa Dillard's skillful lighting successfully showcases time's progression and changes in mood throughout the production.
WITH GREAT DIFFICULTY ALICE SITS is a stark look at what it is to be a woman and/or couple of childbearing years in our ever-changing society. Certain elements of the show seem to represent the antiquated views of an older generation in the eyes of someone younger or who has chosen a different path for themselves. Is Alice's burgeoning bump representative of an actual pregnancy or the still present societal pressure on women to be "fulfilled" as it deems fit? What you take away from this show will be determined by your outlook, but it will make you look at the pressures and expectations placed on women and reproductive rights. There are no easy answers, but if you choose to see this play you will be discussing it long after you leave the theater.
WITH GREAT DIFFICULTY ALICE SITS plays October 27th - November 19th, 2016 at the Off Center, 2211 Hildalgo. Thursday through Saturday at 8pm.
Run Time: (approx.) 75 minutes with no intermission.
Every night is Pay-What-You-Can at the door. Every night is FREE for teenagers at the door.
Online reservations start at $10 and can be made at salvagevanguard.org/tickets/
Box Office: 512-474-SVT6
November 4th: Community Dialogue. Hosted by the YWCA of Greater Austin, join us for a discussion about reproductive rights and depression from a feminist perspective. CEU's can be purchased through the YWCA for this event. *performance starts at 7pmNovember 19th: Champagne Celebration! This evening features a pre-show gathering with beverages and tasty treats by local foodie Ricardo Sanchez AND a post-show champagne party with the cast and crew at the theater following the performance. Tickets are $30.