I attended the Friday, January 20th performance of Silk Dress Productions’ Tiny Alice by Edward Albee at the Mid-City Theater, a recently renovated venue in the New Orleans theatre scene, which is a refreshing sight in spite of the indefinite closure of venues such as Le Petit in the French Quarter, Le Chat Noir in the CBD, and the Actors Theatre of New Orleans in Metairie. Despite being clearly in flux, theatre continues to thrive, and the changing terrain is forcing patrons to break age-old go-to’s and explore—a beautiful thing!
I was unfamiliar with this piece, only that it debuted at the Billy Rose Theatre on Broadway in late December of 1964 (contrary to the 1965 consensus), and it is one of Albee’s less often produced works. I usually find myself being pleasantly surprised and all the more enticed by plays I have never read or seen. This is where I pump the breaks and confess that this, unfortunately, was not my experience with this production. My personal qualms with the play are for the most part only that—irreconcilable issues with script:
Why did Edward Albee want me to see his play about a bunch of creepy, emotionally suppressed/disturbed, socially inhibited, and geographically isolated people knocking into one another in a maybe-haunted mansion?
The playbill provided neither a time nor a place (and no indication of whether or not this was an intentional choice by Albee), so here’s the lay of the land: a lawyer (who might have had a romantic relationship with the Cardinal in their youth) pays the Cardinal a visit and declares the woman for whom he works, while still alive and well, wishes to dispose an immense amount of fortune onto ‘the church.’ In exchange, the cardinal has a young clergyman, Brother Julian, appointed to ensure the financial proceedings are maintained to the letter. In the main room of the recluse benefactress, ‘Miss Alice”s mansion, sits a ‘living’ replica of the mansion itself and is a constant subject of fascination in the world of the play. Is the mansion haunted or possessed—who’s to say for certain, but during an indeterminable stretch of time, Miss Alice eventually seduces Brother Julian to the perdition of all. In most circumstances, I’d throw in a *spoiler alert*, but quite frankly, I’m not sure what the spoiler is. Perhaps explaining what I mean by ‘perdition’ would give a little something away, so I’ll stop there and get to the meat of it.
ACTing. In short, a confusing play performed by a strong cast. There were some choices in the character dynamics I was uncertain of being director or actor-driven, but overall, the acting was solid and the momentum of the piece was maintained by these performers from beginning to end. I was especially fond of the character, Butler, performed hilariously well by Doug Barden.
Cuts. This production is not an adaptation of Edward Albee’s words but an abridged version with many cuts (only discovered after having spoken with a couple actors after curtain call). I’d be interested to read the original in its entirety simply to satisfy my curiosity as to whether I would be even more or less confused.
DESIGN. (Hair & Wardrobe) Ill-fitting hemlines on un-ironed slacks proved a terrible distraction, as did any time the lead actress had her hair bobbing in front of her face. No matter the era, clothes must fit and faces must be seen—period. (Set Pieces) After being a part of a production with artists who constructed a multi-dimensional, New Orleans style house made completely of cardboard, adhesive, and Velcro during the New Orleans Fringe Festival in 2008 (also, if you’ve seen The Fantastic Mr. Fox, you’ve seen this house), I’ve become spoiled in my expectations of models built to scale. The mansion replica in this production was underwhelming at best in its aesthetic, although the use of light fixtures created a desirable effect. (Transitions) They took entirely too long and perhaps needed a fourth set of hands to help pick up the pace. I felt sorry for the poor chap stage right that had to turn a huge set piece numerous times by his lonesome.
Dîaléct. Actors implementing a dialect of any kind must receive some form of coaching throughout the duration of the rehearsal process and have access to vocabulary exercises to utilize prior to every performance; very little takes me out of a moment more than hearing a very talented actor sound like himself instead of the person he is attempting to portray.
L e n g t h . 2 ½ hours is a lot for contemporary audiences to digest, even with 2 small intermissions in-between acts.
Theme. God is everywhere and nowhere in this piece. I’m not sure what Albee’s message is in this work, and from what homework I’ve done in hopes of understanding this play better, Albee didn’t have concrete answers himself and leaves the responsibility of interpretation to its audiences.
For those of you who have yet to see Tiny Alice, you’ve still got 2 nights left to try and figure this mystery out for yourself! It’s a three-act monster of a play, and I commend everyone involved in this production for having the guts to take it on. I can’t say it’s a favorite, but I can say I whole-heartedly respect Silk Dress Productions for seeking to produce challenging, provocative work.
Friday, January 27 and Saturday, January 28 @ 8PM | Mid-City Theatre, 3540 Toulousse St.
Monica Harris is a professional theatre artist and all-around go-getter. Originally from Angeles City, Philippines and raised in Fort Worth, TX, she is a proud New Orleanian who, between the 2-job hustle, lives the Bohemian dream.