Reviewed by Victor Gluck
Presented by New York Theatre Workshop and Het Zuidelijk Toneel in co-production with the Holland Festival and deSingel Antwerp at 79 E. 4th St., NYC, Nov. 5-Dec. 9.
Written in 1990, "Alice in Bed," Susan Sontag's first play, is having its New York premiere as the third joint venture between the New York Theatre Workshop and minimalist director Ivo van Hove, of Holland's Het Zuidelijk Toneel. This play, however, does not need a minimalist production, as it is mainly a monologue spoken by Alice, the talented, but ill-fated, younger sister of writers Henry and William James.
Inspired by the diary of a woman who died at age 44 after spending most of her life as a bedridden invalid, "Alice in Bed" also combines elements from "Alice in Wonderland." Aside from what the play has to say about the role of women in the 19th century, the imagination, solitude, and illness, "Alice In Bed" is over-intellectualized for theatergoers, because the author expects familiarity with literary figures from Margaret Fuller to Kundry and Mythra.
Van Hove has placed Alice's memories of conversations with her father, brother, and mother, as well as a drug-induced mad tea party with Fuller, Emily Dickinson, etc., on video projected on the walls or screens that drop suddenly and surround Alice's bed. As videoed by Runa Islam and performed by actors like Jeroen Krabbe, Paul Rudd, and Elizabeth Marvel, these sequences make no dramatic impression whatever. The setting by Jan Versweyveld, which has the props of Alice's life hanging all around her, might have worked had the cables which hold them up not been so prominently lit.
Nevertheless, this is a tour de force for Joan MacIntosh, who is on stage throughout the play's 75 minutes, but must also run the gamut from sanity to insanity, illness to health, euphoria to despair. As the only other actor to appear live, Jorre Vandenbussche, as the burglar, seems to have stepped out of a contemporary play, despite his authentic sounding Cockney accent.