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Henry And Alice: Into The Wild Review

January 28, 2013

Given the success of Sexy Laundry, writing a follow-up must surely have seemed a bit daunting to Vancouver playwright Michele Riml. Would she be pressing her luck? Might audiences find it too much of a good thing? Could she do it justice? Does lightning strike twice?

To her credit, she took the plunge. She closed her eyes, she held her breath, she let go of the swinging rope. She allowed herself to fall into the lakInto_the_Wild_Promoe, and emerged from the cold water with a smile on her face and a sequel, for lack of a better term, called Henry And Alice: Into The Wild.

The scene has shifted, from hotel room to campsite. A third character has been added, in the person of Diana, who is Alice’s younger sister and thus Henry’s sister-in-law. Most importantly, the scope has expanded beyond the solitary theme of a dysfunctional physical relationship to a multiplicity of concerns that are truly universal. Sex is easy. Growing older is hard.

Henry and Alice have reached the stage of life where people begin to take stock and the question arises: Is that all there is? What makes their circumstances even more traumatic is that they haven’t arrived here gradually or voluntarily; they have been slam dunked into retirement prematurely. Henry has lost his job. Alice’s world has turned upside down. And then along comes Diana to remind them, hey guys you can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, well, you just might find you get what need.

Riml writes sitcom for the stage, and she writes it confidently. The humor in this show runs the gamut from groan-inducing cheesiness to stuff that is laugh-out-loud funny. At times, she is predictable. At times, she catches you totally off guard. Her greatest accomplishment is the way she uses humor to get her characters into and out of the more serious subject matter, a pattern that is followed from start to finish.

In the Globe Theatre production, Daryl Shuttleworth takes on the role of the conservative Henry, whose late-in-life self discovery is instantly recognizable to North American males: Who we are (as human beings) and what we do (to earn a living) are two different things, and we shouldn’t mistake one for the other.

Jan Alexandra Smith is cast here as Alice, a housewife and mother whose meticulously planned life has suddenly gone off the rails as the result of Henry losing his job, and left her resentful of the fact that she has been cheated by life despite her considerable personal sacrifices on behalf of her husband and children.

Henry is angry. Alice is bitter. Then along comes leather-clad, tattooed Diana (Natascha Girgis) who arrives on an aging Yamaha motorcycle, and who might as well have brought a psychiatrist’s couch with her, because the purpose she serves is to guide Alice and Henry to a resolution of their emotion conflicts, as individuals and as a married couple, by listening, mostly, and occasionally making an insightful observation or offering a well-timed word of advice.

(Not that Diana doesn’t have psychological baggage of her own, the two largest pieces being arrested development and a tendency to confuse “free-spirited” with “irresponsible.” But at least, unlike Henry or Alice, she knows who she is.)

Veteran director Valerie Ann Pearson has more to contend with than just storyline, characters, and themes. There are technical challenges galore, and to her credit, she rises above them all. With the assistance of designers Devon Bhim (costumes and set), Tristan Tidswell (lighting) and Devon Bonneau (sound), Pearson gives us a campsite as a microcosm of life, complete with a noisy but exhaust-free motorcycle whose engine you would swear is actually being revved, and a windstorm so convincing it will make you reach instinctively for your hat even though there is barely a ripple in the pages of your program.

Henry And Alice: Into The Wild runs from January 23 – February 10, 2013. Visit the Globe Theatre website for more details, cast information, and to purchase tickets. 

Nick Miliokas is a freelance writer and editor based in Regina. You can reach him by email at rozenstern@rocketmail.com.

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