Tuesday March 6, 2012

I ♠ Alice ♠ I

Amy Conroy and Clare Barrett in 'I ™ Alice ™ I' at The Irish Arts Center (Russ Rowland)

By Gwen Orel

Two sweet, 60-something women stand nervously onstage, reminding themselves to breathe.

We learn that both are named Alice, and that they have been lovers for 26 years.

This piece, they explain, is the result of having been spotted in a rare kiss at a Tesco by a theatremaker, presumably Conroy.

Over the course of an hour or so, we come to know both women; the shyer, yet slyly witty Alice Slattery, nee Connolly, (Clare Barrett) and the bolder, more practical Alice Kinsella (Amy Conroy).

Now if you read that last sentence carefully, you'll be ahead of the play's big reveal at the end. I won't spoil it though.

They are charming, smart women, and you can't help liking them, especially when they gently mock each other's driving or cooking.

Alice Kinsella is nearly two years older than Alice Slattery. They met when Alice S. played with Alice K's little sister as children.

Alice Kinsella departed for London in the swinging 60s, became involved in a rather hilarious soap opera-y foursome, and returned home to care for an ailing mother.

Meanwhile, Alice Slattery had married, only later realizing she and her husband Liam, who died of a massive heart attack at just 31 (the audience gasped), were operating at "half speed."

Their stories are touching - there's a breast cancer scare, an affair that helps them realize what their relationship means.

Conroy has shaped the lines and observations poetically and gracefully.

But it has to be said, this must mean more in Ireland than here, just as Brokentalkers' Silver Stars, a piece about middle-aged and older gay men, did (I did an advance for the New York Times).

Although many leapt to their feet, and it still makes some uncomfortable - one woman, weirdly, left at that point, although her seat was next to the wall and she had to climb over ten people.

Conroy's writing is so smooth and funny that I was never bored, but there doesn't seem to be terribly much at stake here.

The obstacles Alice and Alice faced were mostly internal.

While it's a relief not to hear overfamiliar stories of homophobia, the love story is not different from any couple still together after long years.

Perhaps that's the point, in the end. Love is love. It may not be dramatic, but it's beautiful to see.

I ♠ Alice ♠ I runs at the Irish Arts Center, 553 West 51st Street, through March 17.

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