“Alone with Friends” is a party…in the writer’s head
HAMTRAMCK, Mich.–For anyone who’s ever tried to write fiction, Margaret Edwartowski’s new play–Alone with Friends, now playing at Planet Ant– will ring a bell the size of Big Ben. The writer’s life is all there, right down to searching for just the right “Thing to Call Your Protagonist” on www.babynames.com. Any author knows what it’s like to live with these creations of your mind, but the writer here takes things to a whole new level.
Hannah (Inga Wilson) is a best-selling romance writer, churning out variations on the same story for “lonely housewives trying to get their groove back.” Hannah has become a shut-in, for tragic reasons we will learn later in the play. She’s only alone, though, if you don’t count those characters who have really sprung to life, taking up space in the creative corners of her mind and but in her apartment. They’ve made themselves at home in her living room, her bedroom – but not the kitchen. The electric stove, which can heat water without a fire, seems like sorcery to these early 19th-century denizens of her latest bodice-ripper. After all, Hannah’s infernal small ringing talking machine is frightening enough, isn’t it?
In fact, Hannah has become friends with her leading character, named – in the latest novel- Ivy. Played wonderfully by Julia Garlotte, she’s the spunky, young British heroine you’ve seen in a hundred Masterpiece Theatre productions and Jane Austen books. In fact, she’s not afraid to tell her author off, questioning plot-lines and the most minute motivations. (Why SHOULD she get out of the carriage just then?)
But she is Hannah’s comforting BFF, and she’s worried about her. She assures a doubting Hannah that the writer is not “touched.” (Hannah: “Great, I’m being told I’m not crazy by the voices in my head.”)
Soon, Hannah brings in James (Stephen Blackwell), the dark, mysterious hero (of course) of her book. As the scenes Hannah writes play out before us, he seems a little preoccupied with getting to the boudoir chapters. (“I’m beginning to think I made you too one-dimensional,” Hannah says.) But when Hannah’s blind date, Jordan (Patrick Loos) arrives, even James is caught up in encouraging Hannah’s real-life romance, and her scary steps back into the real world.
Wilson as the writer alternates hilariously between being physically frantic and softly vulnerable. Blackwell plays the book’s hero as hugely swaggering with a touch of Hugh Grant. And Loos walks the fine line between being a supportive and enamored suitor while also at first making us wonder a bit if he is as “awesome” as he claims.
Within Planet Ant’s small black-box confines Jennifer Maiseloff has created a set which subtly conveys Hannah’s worlds. (Interesting that an agoraphobic has walls filled with paintings of steps and corridors leading to – Where?) Vince Kelley designed the costumes appropriate to both 21st-century singles and 200-year-old Brits. And director Kelly Komlen has paced the show to hit satirical and tender moments.
It’s well worth a trip to Hamtramck to spend an evening with Margaret Edwartowski’s imaginary friends.