TFANA's ABOUT ALICE Begins Jan 8
Theatre for a New Audience presents About Alice, the world premiere of a new play by Calvin Trillin, inspired by his 2007 memoir of the same name. The production, directed by Leonard Foglia, plays January 8-February 3, 2019 at Polonsky Shakespeare Center (262 Ashland Place, Brooklyn).
About Alice stars Jeffrey Bean and Carrie Paff as Calvin and Alice Trillin. Bean and Paff first worked together this past summer in a developmental workshop production of About Alice directed by Foglia at White Heron Theatre in Nantucket, Massachusetts.
Alice Trillin, a gifted writer, educator, film producer, activist on behalf of cancer patients, and muse to her husband, the humorist Calvin Trillin, died September 11, 2001, at age 63, from complications due to treatment for lung cancer diagnosed 25 years earlier.
Reading condolence letters, Trillin realized that readers didn't know Alice beyond a "sort of an admirable sitcom character" that he had created in his books and magazine pieces. Four years after her death, New Yorker editor David Remnick suggested that Trillin consider writing about her. In 2006, New Yorker published Trillin's essay "Alice, Off the Page." About Alice, Trillin's 2007 memoir, developed from this essay.
Rather than memorializing his grief, Trillin celebrates the real Alice and their 36-year-marriage as a New York love story. Reviewing the memoir for The New York Times, Peter Stevenson wrote, "Sometimes we come across a piece of first person writing that shocks us back into a restorative innocence vis-à-vis the human heart...neither partner seems to have done any grievous or even subtle harm to the other. It was as if he had traveled out beyond familiar territory and brought back a moon rock, something worthy of preserving." And you could tell he and Alice had a ball. Weeks after their first meeting, he pursued her to another party:
"At the second party, I did get to talk to her quite a lot.... Recalling that party in later years, Alice would sometimes say, 'You have never again been as funny as you were that night.'
'You mean I peaked in December of 1963?' I'd say, 20 or even 30 years later.
'I'm afraid so.'"
Although Alice never smoked, in 1976, at age 38, she discovered she had lung cancer. Against terrifying odds, Alice survived and wrote eloquently about living with the disease. In 1990, New England Journal of Medicine published her article "Of Dragons and Garden Peas: A Cancer Patient Talks to Doctors,"in which she wrote: "A blood test will never again be a simple, routine procedure.... It is particularly important to face the fact of death squarely, to talk about it with one another." Dear Bruno, based on her letter to a 12-year-old boy who was a cancer patient, was published in 1996. Eight months before her death, The New Yorker published her essay "Betting Your Life." In it, she wrote, "I'd come to think of it as the dragon that sleeps inside anyone who has had cancer. We can never kill this dragon, but we go about the business of our daily lives-giving our children breakfast, putting more mulch on our gardens-in the hope that it will stay asleep for a while longer."
Calvin Trillin's new play About Alice was commissioned and developed by Theatre for a New Audience through its Studio program (inaugural director Arin Arbus, followed by Susanna Gellert) and via multiple readings including the New Yorker Festival (2016), City Art & Lectures (San Francisco, CA 2017), and a developmental workshop at White Heron Theatre (Nantucket, MA, 2018).
Trillin says about his play: "'Show, don't tell' is a familiar writing class slogan. Necessarily a memoir, such as the one that inspired this play, has to be mostly 'tell.' Part of what led me to write About Alice for the stage was that a play could be mostly 'show'-showing Alice speaking her own words, showing Alice interacting with her husband, and, I hope, showing Alice connecting directly with the audience."
Director Leonard Foglia notes: "Anna Deavere Smith uses only the words of people she interviews. Working closely with Anna on her plays Let Me Down Easy and Notes from the Field showed me how theatrical and important using people's own words to tell stories can be. Calvin's memoir-his words, and the words of Alice that he quotes-are an experience of love and loss and a kind of universal story that belongs on the stage."
Jeffrey Horowitz, who proposed to Trillin that he adapt his memoir for the stage says, "The development of About Alice is part of TFANA's ongoing commitment to doing new work by authors who are not necessarily dramatists. In About Alice the words of the real Alice and Calvin merge with the imagined Alice and Calvin performed by actors Carrie Paff and Jeffrey Bean. The audience knows this and is always experiencing Alice and Calvin through the author's memory."
About Alice begins with Calvin remembering, "There was one condolence letter that made me laugh. Naturally, a lot of them made me cry. Some of the ones that made me cry, oddly enough, were from people who had never met Alice. They had become familiar with her as a character in books and magazine pieces I'd written...Virtually all those letters began in the same way, with a phrase like 'Even though I never really knew Alice... I was certain of what Alice's response would have been.'"
In the play, Alice, no longer simply a subject as she was in the memoir, replies: "They're right about that. They never knew me."
About Calvin Trillin
Calvin Trillin is an American journalist, humorist, food writer, poet, memoirist, and novelist. He began his career as a journalist in the fall of 1960, when he spent a year in the Atlanta bureau of Time covering the civil rights struggle and then moved to its New York office working first as a reporter and then as a writer. He left Time for The New Yorkerin 1963 and became a staff writer. His reporting for The New Yorker on the racial integration of the University of Georgia was published in his first book An Education in Georgia. Four years later, Trillin launched his U.S. Journal series, for which he traveled to different parts of the country. He wrote these articles until 1982.
31 works by Trillin have now been published on civil rights, food, politics, travel, family and humor. Alice Trillin appears in many of Trillin's works some of which were collected in Travels with Alice (1989). Trillin wrote about his own family in Messages from My Father (1996). In Family Man (1998), he reflects upon being a husband to Alice and father to daughters Abigail and Sarah.
Trillin is one of America's most popular humorists and was celebrated with the anthology Quite Enough of Calvin Trillin: Forty Years of Funny Stuff (2011). In 2012, the book received the Thurber Prize for American Humor. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
The American Place Theatre, as part of its American Humorists Series presented one-man shows by Trillin twice: Calvin Trillin's Uncle Sam (1988) and Words, No Music (1990) About Alice is his first full-length play.
About Leonard Foglia
Leonard Foglia (director) is a theater and opera director as well as librettist. Broadway includes Master Class, On Golden Pond, Thurgood, The Gin Game. Off Broadway: Anna Deavere Smith's Notes From The Field and Let Me Down Easy; Opera: Moby Dick, Everest, Cold Mountain, The End of the Affair, Three Decembers, It's a Wonderful Life. His production of Dead Man Walking was produced by New York City Opera. As a librettist he wrote and directed El Pasado Nunca Se Termina/The Past Is Never Finished and Cruzar la Cara de la Luna/To Cross the Face of the Moon both with composer José "Pepe" Martínez, and A Coffin in Egypt with composer Ricky Ian Gordon.
About the Cast
Jeffrey Bean Broadway: Bells Are Ringing (Francis), Amadeus (Kapellmeister Bono); Off-Broadway: The Thanksgiving Play. Regional: Alley Theatre (Resident Company, 28 seasons), Actors Theatre of Louisville, Ahmanson Theatre, Hartford Stage, Bay Street Theatre, White Heron Theatre. TV: Law & Order, The Blacklist, The Good Cop. Awards: Princess Grace Award, Lunt-Fontanne.
Carrie Paff Off-Broadway: Ideation (59E59). Regional: King Charles III (ACT), Stage Kiss, Stupid Fucking Bird (San Francisco Playhouse), Double Indemnity (ACT Seattle), The Real Thing, Betrayal (Aurora Theatre), Holmes & Watson (Arizona Theatre Company), The Other Place (Magic Theatre),The Big Meal (San Jose Rep), A Streetcar Named Desire (Marin Theatre Company), and Joan Rivers: A Work in Progress (Leicester Square, London).
Performance Schedule, Ticketing, and Other Information
Performances of About Alice will take place in the evenings January 8-13, 15-20, 22-27, 29-31, January 7 at 7pm, and February 1-3 at 7:30pm; matinee performances will take place January 19-20, 26-27, and February 2-3 at 2pm. About Alice opens Sunday, January 20 at 7:30pm.
Members of the press are welcome Thursday, January 17 at 7pm, Friday, January 18 at 7:30pm, Saturday, January 19 at 2pm and 7:30pm, and Sunday, January 20 at 2pm.
There will be four free post-performance conversations (TFANA Talks) with Calvin Trillin after the matinee performances on Saturday, January 19 (moderated by Tanya Pollard, Brooklyn College), January 27 (moderated by Budd Mishkin, formerly NY1), February 2 (moderated by Alisa Solomon), and February 3 (moderated, again, by Budd Mishkin).
Theatre for a New Audience is committed to economically accessible tickets and offers tickets at a range of prices for About Alice.
$20 New Deal: all Performances. Age 30 and under or full-time students of any age. May be purchased online, phone, or at the box office, in advance or day-of, with valid ID(s) proving eligibility required at pickup.
$20 Brooklyn Pass: all Performances. Members of local Brooklyn non-profit organizations through Brooklyn Pass program.
$29 TDF: selected performances.
$60: all performances with a TFANA subscription.
Special Discounts: TFANA offers special discounts available by joining TFANA mailing list at www.tfana.org.
$90-$100: all performances.
$115 Premium Seats: all performances.
Tickets are on sale to the public at www.tfana.org, 866.811.4111, and the Polonsky Shakespeare Center box office. Polonsky Shakespeare Center is located at 262 Ashland Place, Brooklyn.