Ex Show Safe but Satisfying
A...My Name Is Alice is a strange stage selection for the Loeb Experimental Theater. The energetic revue admittedly deals with women's issues--it focuses on six women who alternately sing and soliloquize through fourteen musical numbers and eight monologues. But the choice of venue is questionable, considering this show's execution is not the least bit experimental.
A...My Name Is Alice
Directed by Jennifer Giering
At the Loeb Experimental Theater
Through November 3
A...My Name Is Alice is a short, conventional cabaret guaranteed to offend no one. No risks are taken. Perhaps its feminist slant merits the show a spot? Hardly. Although A...My Name Is Alice is written for women, over half of its 28 writers are men. And although it explores women's feelings and relationships, it reinforces rather than destroys old stereotypes--the secretary dreaming of romance, the man-hating feminist poet. So the Ex is an odd place for this show.
That said, A...My Name Is Alice is a wonderful, exuberant production and one of the most enjoyable shows in the recent memory of Harvard. The six talented women are a joy to watch, working extremely well as an ensemble. Though no one actor emerges as the star, each develops her own distinct persona. Eisa Davis convincingly plays tougher, world-weary women. China Forbes grabs our attention with her agressively neurotic delivery. Emily Hsu charms us with her native ingenue characterization. Heather Thompson shines as the dishevelled, often older woman. Faith Salie is the most wistful of the women, with her longing looks and poignant singing. Alyssa Harad alone refuses to be pigeon-holed. This is a mixed blessing; though she shows the most versatility, she is the least memorable.
Choreographers Amy Schalet and Christine Van Kipnis avoid the common student trap of doing too much too often. They keep the dancing sweet and simple, well within the capabilities of the cast. Larry O'Keefe on piano and Ben Leeming on drums provide perfect, elegant musical accompaniment. They make effortless transitions between numbers, moving from rock to blues to soul.
The script, by New York playwrights and musicians, is not brilliant, but more than entertaining. Lyrics such as "Together we're better than so-so/Each of us is a virtuoso" will not likely be mistaken for Cole Porter. But the writing is slick and witty enough to slide even the silliest rhyme right past us. The music plays lightly with American music genres--pop, honky-tonk, blues--but stays mostly within the Broadway tradition. It's not memorable, but it is tuneful.
The third number, "At My Age," is particularly enjoyable. The duet between a fourteen year old girl (Hsu) preparing for her first date and a middle aged woman (Thompson) about to embark on her first blind date since her divorce is funny and touching. In the second act is "Honeypot," a hilarious satire of the ridiculous sexual innuendo prevalent in early blues. Harad beautifully belts out lines such as "Put your monkey wrench in my sugar bowl," while Salie, as the disapproving psychiatrist, glowers. Even if one scene fails to entertain, no skit last longer than four or five minutes. The show is nothing if not fast-moving.
Director Jennifer Giering deserves a lot of credit for A...My Name Is Alice's success. Her staging is clean and energetic. But she makes some odd casting choices. She chose to cast two men in small parts usually played by women, or neglected altogether. Matt Damon gives low-key, humorous performances as a nerdy boyfriend and a lecherous construction worker, and performer Phil King dances well, but their appearances are superfluous. During "I Sure Like The Boys," normally staged as a solo, Giering has Davis and Phil King dance while Harad sings. The novelty of the men's appearances onstage draws our attention to them, rather then to the women, to whom it rightly belongs. But Giering adds another woman to the typically five-woman cast. This means each actor gets less stage-time, and less opportunity to develop a persona, which is unfortunate. But no one would want to cut any of these talented actors.
These are minor quibbles. Giering has done her job: she elicits the best acting, singing, and dancing from her performers. No single element dominates the other. But the true testament to her directorial skill is the fun everyone seems to be having. Onstage fun cannot be faked and cannot be replaced. The actors obviously have a good time performing and as a result, the audience has a better time watching them. Probably the only thing harder than disliking A...My Name Is Alice is acquiring tickets for this weekend's performance.