Review: ‘Alice and the World We Live In’: Our Surreal Reality

Centaur opens its 51st season with a World Premiere directed by Eda Holmes

Jane Wheeler as Alice (Photo credit: Andrée Lanthier)

How is it possible to move forward when all that we love is in the past? 

Written by Alexandria Haber and directed by Eda Holmes, Alice and the World We Live In is a play about the lasting impact of sudden loss. We follow Alice (Jane Wheeler) as she struggles to cope with the death of her husband Ever (Daniel Brochu), grappling with feelings of love, guilt, fear, and regret. The performance is a striking externalization of the traumatized psyche, shedding light on the after-effects of terror and violence. In one uninterrupted act, Alice and the World We Live In manifests the ubiquitous battle of emotion and logic, challenging fact with emotional attestation.

The play begins in complete darkness. A soft spotlight settles, and a woman makes her entrance; slowly, and cautiously. She is hunched over and out of breath. A bombing sound—like thunder—jolts through the theatre, and as much as I feel it pass through me, I see it reverberate in this woman’s body. Her heavy breath asserts a presence of its own. Then, calmly––coolly––a voice from offstage interrupts the chaos, usurping both Alice and the audience from this panicked state.

Emotional plight sets the play in motion, and the rhythmic push and pull of fear and solace pulsates Alice’s journey.

Jane Wheeler (Photo credit: Andrée Lanthier)

The set, designed by Amy Keith, brilliantly exhibits Alice’s inner turmoil. An imposing abstract space, built up vertically with tall, angular wood-like panels leaves little clue as to what the setting might be. In this way, the stage is malleable to express both the emptiness Alice finds herself stuck in, as well as the vast and vivid worlds that she brings herself back to. The set design parallels Alice’s feelings, bringing to life telltale details from her memories, and even collapsing into itself during her breakdown. Watching Alice’s mind unfold manages to feel simultaneously surreal and genuine.

The lighting, too, was a thoughtful expression of Alice’s inner psyche, one that was both effective and aesthetic. Designer Julie Basse played with few lights, alternating warm and cool spots, literally coloring memories to both articulate and shape them. Visuals were both striking and meaningful, expressing the closeness and distance between Alice and Ever. My favorite visual of the performance was a simple horizontal beam of light—a soft haze among the darkness—that lovingly realigned distanced lovers on one same wavelength.

Jane Wheeler and Daniel Brochu (Photo credit: Andrée Lanthier)

I found the dynamics of this couple quite intriguing. The normalcy of their love story is written in stark contrast to the havoc of Ever’s death, evading any static understanding of their relationship. Moreover, though Ever is physically present on stage, acknowledging his death leaves the audience to interpret his character as one crafted by Alice’s memories and desires. As such, the Ever we come to know—as well as his beliefs, values, and wishes—ultimately amounts to Alice’s own design. 

Alice and the World We Live In is an intimate glimpse into the suffering mind. Though Alice is consistently focused on what the bomb left behind, the play centres on how its repercussions are inevitably carried forward. The performance was a relevant expression of our upside-down world, showing how real events can feel surreal, and using empathy to prove that the illogical can sometimes make perfect sense.

When: October 15 – November 3, 2019
Where: Centaur Theatre
(453 Saint-Francois-Xavier, Montreal, H2Y 2T1)
Tickets: $30 – $56
Box Office: (514) 288-3161

Desiree Goldwater

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