ABOUT ALICE: QUICK, QUICK – This post is about an impromptu trip to the THEATER FOR A NEW AUDIENCE in Brooklyn to go see ABOUT ALICE, the new two-character play written by Calvin Trillin about his wife, Alice, and based on his book ABOUT ALICE. We’re going on WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 30th at 7:30pm. The run time is 75 minutes and there is no intermission. If you have to ask who Calvin and Alice Trillin are – or don’t know about ABOUT ALICE, never mind – this probably isn’t for you. We’re trying something new here: YOU HAVE THREE DAYS TO SIGN UP! – we will ask for No-Show Insurance / ticket deposit and as soon as we know how many tickets we need and how much they are, you will be sent a PayPal invoice for the balance – which you will need to pay asap. We’re hoping based on the number of sign-ups that we can get a group discount. This will be a first-come-first served event. Let’s see how this works out.
If you were young and bookish and hanging around New York in the mid-1970’s, you were probably introduced to New Yorker writer Calvin (“Bud”) Trillin through one of his early works, AMERICAN FRIED. Before America’s food-fetishism took hold, the Kansas-bred, Yale-educated Calvin Trillin wrote about all sorts of American food he loved and did so with humor and style and funny irascibility. But in that work, and others to come, another character in almost all his works was his wife Alice. In his books, she was clearly George Burns to her husband’s Gracie – the voice of moderation and good sense who was the foil for his funny and more extreme behavior. Where he was portrayed as funny and a bit foolish, she was shown to be stern and wise.
When Alice Trillin died on September 11, 2001 at age 63 after battling lung cancer for almost 25 years, Calvin Trillin was deluged with letters from people who felt they had come to know Alice through his works. But the thing was – he felt the Alice in his writing was a persona he had created as a writing device and that very few people actually, really, did know her. She described herself as written by her husband as “a dietician in sensible shoes” when the truth was closer to her being a brainy Catherine Deneuve look-alike who was accomplished in multiple spheres.
Calvin Trillin’s thoughts about this first appeared in a 2006 New Yorker essay, “Alice, Off the Page” and was expanded (slightly) into the memoir, ABOUT ALICE, the next year. It has become a cult favorite, not only among the Trillins’ fans but for those who interpret it as beyond a memoir – and more of an evergreen and loving riff on romance and marriage.
Alice Trillin was clearly more than the archly wry and intelligent 60’s housewife and muse people came to think of her as being. She was also one of the founders of a landmark writing program when the City University of New York started its Open Admissions program. Later, as a cancer patient herself, she was a voice and advocate for patient-doctor communication about the disease and her essay, “Of Dragons and Garden Peas: A Cancer Patient Talks to Doctors”, was published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1981. Her writing is still used to train doctors to appreciate the illness and its treatment from a patient’s point of view.