Alice's affair by Susan Coyne, directed by Eda Holmes, with Martha Burns, David Jansen, Brooke Johnson, Daniel Kash, Nancy Palk and Brenda Robins. Presented by the Tarragon (30 Bridgman). Runs to May 29, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinees Saturday-Sunday 2:30 pm. $27-$33, Sunday pwyc-$15, stu/srs $18-$27. 416-531-1827. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
It's hard not to like a play that features a séance, old friends getting drunk and bitching about their lives and lots of funny one-liners. "It was a hotbed of social rest," jokes one character about her dull alma mater.
But Susan Coyne's Alice's Affair doesn't amount to more than the sum of its clever-clever parts.
Alice (Martha Burns) is a mousy 40-something housewife who invites her old writing-class friends back to her cottage after a memorial service for their charismatic and demanding professor, Gregory (Daniel Kash).
As the scotch flows, the former students start to voice their failures. An outsider - the lesbian partner of one of them - happens to be a psychic, which is handy, because Alice's cottage and life turn out to be haunted by ghosts, including her great-grandmother Alice, a friend of the philosopher William James.
Coyne's a sensitive writer, and she can make you hear words and phrases in new ways. "Writing submission," for instance, takes on new meaning in this context.
Coyne also follows teacher Gregory's advice and takes risks. I think she's attempting a Woody Allenesque fantasy here.
But somehow the experiment fails. The younger Alice is a thinly devised character, and some of the others - Brooke Johnson's photojournalist comes to mind - are reduced to tics and mannerisms. Themes like sexual abuse make an appearance only to disappear.
That said, director Eda Holmes lets the first-rate cast have fun with their limited parts. Brenda Robins gives her TV personality jagged edges, and Nancy Palk humanizes her psychic with genuine warmth.
Kash amuses as the omniscient Gregory, but, unfortunately, he's part of an awkward, disorienting prologue that's more theory than theatre.