OFFBEAT: 'Still Alice' up next on stage at Lookingglass Theatre in Chicago

Phil Potempa's daily entertainment news column
2013-03-30T00:00:00Z 2013-08-06T15:27:07Z OFFBEAT: 'Still Alice' up next on stage at Lookingglass Theatre in ChicagoBy Philip Potempa, (219) 852-4327

Continuing its 25th Anniversary Season, Lookingglass Theatre Company has a production of "Still Alice," adapted and directed by Ensemble Member Christine Mary Dunford and based on the novel by Lisa Genova.

It's set to run April 10 to May 19, 2013 at Lookingglass Theatre Company, located inside Chicago's historic Water Tower Water Works, 821 N. Michigan Ave. right at Pearson St.

It follows the story of professor Alice Howland, who is at the peak of her career studying the human brain, when her own mind begins to falter.

Fiercely independent, she battles to preserve her way of life, even as confusion clouds her thinking and her memory begins to fail. I'm told this world premiere adaptation of the award-winning novel is at the same time heartbreaking and hopeful.

"What is extraordinary about Lisa Genova's book and Christine's adaptation of it, is that it takes on a fact of life which has increasing relevance for so many of us, but treats it with great compassion, humor, humanity, and light," said Artistic Director Andrew White.

"This play gives us a rare opportunity to get 'inside the head' of someone experiencing Alzheimer's disease, while also giving us insight into the experience of those family members who are first-hand witnesses and must change and adapt alongside her. This production is also a reunion of sorts for us, bringing back to Lookingglass some long-time friends, Christopher Donahue and Mariann Mayberry, both of whom worked with us in some of our earliest productions and have since gone on to terrific stage careers in Chicago and nationally. Having these members of our extended family back to work with so many Ensemble members -- Christine Mary Dunford, John Musial, Eva Barr, David Kersnar, and Tracy Walsh -- and joined by first rate actors Cliff Chamberlain and Joanne Dubach, makes this family story ring with even more resonance."

Dunford's adaptation of the novel 'Still Alice' was inspired, in part, by her longtime work with The Memory Ensemble, which she co-founded with The Northwestern Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer's Disease Center (CNADC).

The Memory Ensemble is an improvisational theater intervention designed to improve the quality of life for persons with early stage Alzheimer's disease and related disorders (ADRD). It uses improvisational theater to provide a unique therapeutic intervention for people in the early stages of ADRD.

I'm told improvisation focuses on bringing one's personal awareness into the moment, which fosters new ways of thinking, and emphasizes self-awareness, imagination, and spontaneity. So this theater program sees persons with dementia for their creative potential, rather than for their loss, and has the potential to improve quality of life, provide physical and mental stimulation, offer emotional support, alleviate stress, and educate others about ADRD.

The cast of "Still Alice" includes ensemble members Eva Barr in the title role of Alice, David Kersnar as Doctor David and Tracy Walsh as Doctor Tamara, with Cliff Chamberlain as the son and Chris Donahue as John, Joanne Dubach as Lydia and Mariann Mayberry as the role of "Herself."

The creative team for "Still Alice" includes ensemble member Musial's scenic design, artistic associate Alison Siple for costumes, Mike Durst's lighting, artistic associate Rick Sims for sound and composition and Mike Tutaj's projections.

"Still Alice" is a recipient of the 2012 Edgerton Foundation New American Play Award, and will be part of the Bodies of Work Festival of Disability Arts and Culture, which is an 11 day, multi-venue Chicago festival featuring visual and performing arts by artists with disabilities and highlighting work about disabilities May 15 to 25. Visit for details.

There are some "Still Alice" post-show panel discussions and special events, starting with following the 3 p.m. Sunday, April 28 matinee, for "Living and Learning: A long and complicated journey begins with a diagnosis of Alzheimer's Disease," featuring a panel looking at the latest understanding of the disease, what the most recent research tells us, and where current trends in both science and care are leading.

And following the 3 p.m. Sunday, May 5th performance, it's "Living and Support," exploring why this disease has become better known and recognized with a wide network of support services. It will answer questions like: "What types of care and support are available for those living with Alzheimer's Disease?" and "What types of support are available for families and caregivers?"

Scheduled for following the 3 p.m. Sunday, May 12 matinee, the subject of "Living and Changing," tackles why it's a given that people with Alzheimer's Disease can expect changes to occur, but also what is the range of changes to body and mind, at what rate, and what are some adaptive responses? What kinds of care have mitigated some of these changes for both those with the disease and those around them?

Following the 3 p.m. Sunday, May 19 matinee, following the 3:00 pm matinee, it's "Living and Identity: Making connections between aging, dementia, and disability." What is a disability, and who defines what qualifies as a disability? Is dementia a disability? How can we, as a society, embrace the changes and differences between others? This talk will be curated and facilitated by Carrie Sandahl, associate professor, UIC Institute on Disability and Human Development.

The discussion following the 7:30 p.m. Thursday, May 2nd performance is devoted to "Living and Legality: What happens when patients and family members suddenly face a host of questions about Alzheimer's Disease – not just medical, but legal and financial?" What changes are afoot in law and financial planning, and what resources are available to help them sift through these challenges? It will be curated and facilitated by John McGowan, senior vice president for Northern Trust Bank.

And following the 3 p.m. matinee Thursday, May 16th, "Living and Performing: A conversation on performance and disability," takes center stage, curated and facilitated by Cheryl Kaplan Zachariah, PhD., candidate in disability and performance at UIC, actor, writer, theatre arts integration specialist.

Production Sponsors for "Still Alice" are Allstate and The Edgerton Foundation. Consortium Couples include Leigh and Henry Bienen, Doug Brown and Rachel E. Kraft, and Melinda McMullen and Duncan Kime.

Tickets for the preview performances are $28 to $38 and the regular run is $36 to $70. A limited number of student tickets are available the day of the show for $20 with valid student ID. Groups of 10 or more patrons save up to 20 percent. FYI: (312) 337-0665 or Discounted parking is available for Lookingglass patrons at both the nearby John Hancock Center and Olympia Centre Self Park (161 E. Chicago Ave.).

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer. He can be reached at or (219) 852-4327.

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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