Jenny Stafford’s Alive is a short, dark comedy with a surprisingly sweet undertone.
Jacob (Ben Hilzer) surprises his wife Ashley (Caitlin Hilzer) by returning from a flea market with a decorative burial urn. Ashley is disturbed less by the actual urn than Jacob’s suggestion it should be used to contain their ashes after death and be on display in their home. Gradually Jacob becomes aware Ashley has never reconciled to leaving her home in Los Angles and putting aside her acting career.
Throughout the play, there is the sense the characters are ‘acting’. The opening scenes of Jacob and Ashley proclaiming their love and devotion feel like they are protesting too much and over-stating to conceal their insecurities and resentments. Director Penny Cole emphasises this artificial atmosphere—opening the play with a bouncy, light-hearted, almost childlike soundtrack as if from a sitcom.
Jacob and Ashley are living lives not so much of quiet desperation as slight disappointment. Jenny Stafford constantly balances the idealised impressions of love and relationships against a reality which is not so much grim as disappointingly mundane. The compromises couples make to sustain a relationship are all too apparent. When Jacob and Ashley discuss how they can best express their joy at being alive, they have to dismiss all their preferences as being too expensive and settle for jumping on the furniture. Even then, Jacob protests the chairs are new.
Alive is perhaps too short to allow the darker elements to emerge naturally. A longer running time would have allowed the play to develop at a more realistic pace and move from dark humour to the wider themes of life’s pleasures and the resentments underlying a relationship.
Reviewer: David Cunningham