Lookingglass Theatre: “Still Alice”

I think it’s going to be a few weeks before I don’t panic every time I forget where I put my keys.

That’s the intensity that Lookingglass Theatre’s world premiere adaptation of Lisa Genova’s novel, “Still Alice” brings to the topic of early-onset dementia. It’s scary, it robs you of all the things you love, and there’s not a whole lot you can do about it.

Directed by Ensemble Member Christine Mary Dunford, the show more than aptly details the swath of destruction that Alzheimer’s creates not just for the person afflicted, but for the entire family. Eva Barr and Mariann Mayberry work in tandem as Alice (Barr) and her inner dialogue (Mayberry)—a somewhat comforting thought, knowing Alice is never truly alone. What first begins as slightly clunky—the two onstage together diving into unremarkable daily life—quickly makes sense as the audience begins to see Aiice slowly unravel into her disease before her family notices the signs.

It’s impossible not to feel the agony of Alice’s husband John (in an amazing turn from Chris Donahue)—a man losing his wife even as she stands right before him, and having to negotiate his future with their kids Thomas (Cliff Chamberlain) and Lydia (Joanne Dubach). The heartbreaking moments are too numerous to list them all—from Alice’s realization she’s lost in her own home and the embarrassing consequences, to the first time she forgets her own daughter, on what is otherwise a triumphant evening for her.

The biggest applause should be for Barr, who brings to life the terror a person must feel when they know their mind is slipping away before their body fails them. It’s supposed to be the other way around. Barr carries this character through the play with grace and dignity, as Alice fights the descent into her personal Hell—the loss of a formidable academic mind, her children and her husband. Barr’s inner rage is palpable—to the point of emotional discomfort for the audience—and for me, that’s a performance you don’t want to miss.

As always with Lookingglass, the set design is such that changes are nearly seamless even though it takes place right before your eyes, meaning you can focus entirely on the content of the play.

Fair warning, this is not a happy piece. And that’s the point—there isn’t anything happy about early-onset dementia. But it’s still a story deserving of a stage and Lookingglass has a hit on their hands with this one.

“Still Alice” runs through May 19 at Lookingglass Theatre inside the Water Tower Works, 821 N. Michigan Ave. Tickets are $436 – $70 and are available either by phone at 312-337-0665 or online at www.lookingglasstheatre.org.