The Stanford Theater Lab’s production of Go Ask Alice pushes traditional theatrical boundaries. Director Sarah Mergen ‘19 personally adapted the script from the book of the same name to create a blend of simplistic sets, narrative-focused dialogue, and analysis of difficult themes that is afflicting to the core. The portrayal of Alice, a misunderstood and complexly troubled teenager who falls into addiction, is heavy, but contains a grieving beauty.
Go Ask Alice persists, both explicitly and implicitly, that anyone could be Alice. Each actress takes turns playing Alice and each Alice wears a shirt that says “Anonymous.” The caption is a reminder of Alice’s relatability. But in some ways, the other, non-Alice characters have the greater anonymity. The minor characters all wear black, and although the roles of the characters change, the actresses do not (the same actress, for example, plays Alice’s sister as well as Alice’s lover). Whether or not this was intentional, the small cast and subsequent overlapping of roles creates a powerful feeling of namelessness and contributes to Alice’s sense of loneliness.
The Theater Lab also addresses the significance of gender roles and sexuality through the story and through a majority non-male identifying cast. Alice clings to others, especially significant others, in hopes of creating meaningful relationships. In doing so, Alice creates a worrying dependence; with a dependency on others, Alice ignores their own self-care. Rather than create an equal relationship, the level of care is repeatedly skewed to the other person opposed to Alice themselves.
Alice’s dependencies are commentary on the danger of gender stereotypes. The idea that relationships will solve all problems, particularly for girls, was and is prevalent in society. Alice easily falls into this trap, believing that caring for their significant other is the same as caring for themselves. Additionally, Alice easily falls in love, regardless of gender. It is strongly implied that Alice is queer, but this aspect of their identity is not fully explored. It is important to recognize that because the play is set during the 1960’s, Alice and other queer teenagers had little access to resources, restricting their ability to understand or even acknowledge their sexuality. Alice’s culture limits their exploration of orientation.
Alice’s mental and emotional state, particularly their loneliness, is one of the most eloquently explored themes. It is clear that Alice experiences mental and emotional instability. A combination of lack of communication with their parents and the pressure placed on them by society to be “normal” creates a too-tight cage through which Alice desires escape. Drugs provide them this escape. The slow, long downfall of Alice is beautifully painful, from the unsettling yet stunning trip scenes to the aching cycles of addiction to swearing-off-drugs and back to addiction again.
It is in this display of drug abuse that Go Ask Alice excels most, painting with a subtle hand. During Alice’s first experience with drugs, for example, the audience feels the confusion and wonder along with Alice—the other actors move so fluidly they become almost imperceivable from the stage. In contrast, when Alice is hospitalized, their breakdown in the hospital bed is just as harrowing, but deeply more personal. The absence of other actors here draws the attention directly to Alice.
The narrative, too, is artful. There are times in which Alice’s dramatic phrases could feel forced (she often repeats expressions akin to “it was the best / worst day of my life” or “I had never felt happier / worse”), but, at the same time, also real. As a teenager who continually and frequently experiences terrible events, it is easy to have a loss for words. Alice has the majority of the dialogue, but listening to one character does not become stale—other characters chime in during Alice’s soliloquies with impeccable timing and the transitions between Alices are smooth. Despite a run time of two hours and forty-five minutes, the narration makes the production feel smooth.
Alice’s soliloquies are conversations with their diary, and this becomes more and more significant near the end of the play. Alice’s relationship with their diary is one of the most meaningful in the piece—it is one relationship Alice enjoys, but in which is not overly dependent. In one of the most touching moments, Alice ends their dialogue by speaking directly to the audience as if the audience was their diary. One feels that, sitting there, an audience member and Alice are not so different. In the words of Sarah Mergen, Alice “is someone we know personally… perhaps even a part of ourselves.”
Go Ask Alice ran December 1st to 3rd at 7:30 PM at the Pigott Theater.
Images courtesy of Robert Shi