Review: Alison’s House (The Depot Theatre)

Venue: The Depot Theatre (Marrickville NSW), Apr 4 – 21, 2018
Playwright: Susan Glaspell
Director: Julie Baz
Cast: Matthew Bartlett, Veronica Clavijo, Penny Day, Dominique De Marco, Elliott Falzon, Nyssa Hamilton, David Jeffrey, Brendan Lorenzo, James Martin, Tasha O’Brien, Sarah Plummer
Images by Katy Green Loughrey

Theatre review
Fewer than a dozen of Emily Dickinson’s poems were published during her lifetime. Her body of work, comprising approximately 1,800 pieces, only saw the light of the day after her passing; she was female after all. In Susan Glaspell’s Alison’s House, Alison Stanhope is a surrogate for Dickinson, and we meet her family on the eve of the year 1900, 18 years after her death. The Stanhopes are moving house, but Alison’s presence is strong and a mystery around her posthumous success emerges. Although a Pulitzer Prize winner, the play feels every bit her 88 years of age. Central concerns about authorship and artistic legacy remain valid, but its dramatic structure is now gauche, with stodgy dialogue that many will find alienating.

Its first two acts are particularly inaccessible, and the cast’s divergent approaches make the show a difficult one to engage with. The third act however, is a fortunate change of pace, with the plot suddenly turning lively, when the crux of the matter is finally revealed and addressed. Actor Brendan Lorenzo is a delight in the role of Eben, with intense conviction and a buoyant energy that helps introduce a quotient of enthralment. The production is a faithful rendition of a dated script, with everything kept coloured inside the lines. It is an adventurous spirit that dares take on this forgotten play, but this execution of Alison’s House requires greater imagination to resurrect it from obscurity.

Our great writers write from personal perspectives, but what is put on paper may not always be intended for public consumption. Time however, has the capacity to change anything. What was once private, objectionable or simply unfinished, could transform, over the years, into something that serves a greater purpose. We must then consider what it is that we want to hold sacred, when tossing up between the private and the public, or the dead and the living. When ambiguities abound, coming to decisions is difficult, but it is the very quality of ambiguity that interrogates the deepest of our beliefs, and that shows us who we truly are.