Photographer Alice Austen and Gertrude Tate.
Image courtesy of Looking for Lilith.

Alice in Black and White

by Robin Rice Lichtig
Directed by Kathi E. B. Ellis
A review by Kate Barry
Entire contents are copyright © 2013 Kate Barry. All rights reserved.

Great stories come from history, tragedies of kings and love lost, incredible journeys that inspire. Looking for Lilith has had the honor of producing the world premier of Alice in Black and White, a play about Alice Austen, a very important woman in the history of art who was unknown for quite some time.
Looking for Lilith’s productions are beautifully simple and fascinating. In case you aren’t familiar with Austen’s work, her photos hang from the rafters of the MeX and create a backdrop for the performance. Photography is used as a motif as scenes create snapshots of Austen’s life complete with period costumes and historically accurate cameras. Jennifer Thalman Kepler plays the free spirited Alice Austen. With joy and wonder, she portrays a woman who was ahead of her time, independent and strong. With this inner strength, Kepler displays vulnerability in her character’s moments of disappointment. Kepler’s Alice is just as direct, straightforward and haunting as the artist’s pictures.
Paired against Ted Lesley as her loving Transcendentalist grandfather, these actors display an affectionate chemistry so endearing and affectionate that when Kepler tells her grandfather of her unconventional lifestyle, his rejection of her is completely heartbreaking. As John Austen, Lesley creates a man who is filled with forward-thinking ideas that inspire Alice while all the while denying her personal freedoms. Shannon Woolley Allison plays Austen’s mother, prudish and old-fashioned – a character who provides strong moments as well with laughs and the play’s more tense moments as she observes the life that her daughter chooses to lead. Laura Ellis plays Austen’s companion. Although Kepler and Ellis share a sweet chemistry, in latter parts of the play where Kepler fully embodies Austen in her older years, Ellis maintains the posture of a person her own age. I was not convinced that she had aged at all. Understandably, Austen was diagnosed with pneumonia and arthritis, causing Kepler to move more cautiously in these scenes. Ellis seems to show less commitment to her character’s age in later parts of the play.
There is another story within the play that parallels the life of Alice Austen. Joe Hatfield plays Oliver Jensen, a man in search of learning all he can about Austen’s life. Determined and bold, Hatfield’s performance is accompanied by Trina Fischer, who plays Sally Lally, a lovesick sidekick to Oliver. Where Austen denies the typical life for a woman, Fischer’s Sally is determined to move up in her profession as well as woo Oliver in a gender role reversal. This side plot takes a backseat as Oliver comes closer to finding Alice Austen. Many other similarities lie between Oliver, Sally and Alice and Gertrude’s life, but if I tell you any more, I may spoil it.
I like to take some kind of notes while watching a play for reviews. For this play, I found myself watching more and taking notes less. Truly, I could not look away the entire show. Whether it was Austen’s pictures, the stripped down staging or Jennifer Thalman Kepler as an artist ahead of her time, Looking for Lilith has everything you need for a great night of theatre.
Alice in Black and White
February 28, March 1, 2, 4, 7, 8, 9 at 7:30 p.m.
March 9 at 2:00 p.m.

Looking for Lilith Theatre Company

MeX Theatre, The Kentucky Center for the Arts
501 West Main Street

Louisville, KY 40202

For reservations, call The Kentucky Center Box Office at 502-584-7777 or 1-800-775-7777 or go to
Adult tickets are $18. Student and senior tickets are $15.
Community night on Monday, March 4 – all tickets ONLY $10.