Two Alices, one long marriage - Review of “I heart Alice heart I” at the Irish Arts Center
Ireland has always been good at keeping secrets. If you didn’t quite fit the mold, they developed some tried and tested methods to keep you hidden in plain sight. To take the look off you, as they might say themselves.
From mother and infant homes to Magdalene Laundries to industrial schools to travelers halting sites, for decades anyone who stood out in Ireland was quickly taken in (often never to be heard from again).
If our unwed mothers were once hidden away from public view to spare our blushes, then elderly lesbian couples were considered completely unmentionable.
Let’s face it, long-standing lesbian partnerships have never exactly been a big fixture on the Irish social scene. You could attend a hundred county society dinner dances, GAA matches, bring and buy sales, christenings or funerals without ever having being aware of an old and loving lesbian couple in your midst.
But you’d be quite wrong to think they were never there. As the oddly named but very funny and deeply moving new play from Dublin titled I Heart Alice Heart I now playing at the Irish Arts Center in New York makes clear, sometimes you just need to look a little harder to see what’s right in front of your face.
Actor and director Amy Conroy knows exactly how many stories have been written or edited out of the book of Ireland. In fact it was her impulse to record what was in danger of being lost that inspired this hilarious and very touching play that you absolutely should not miss.
Spotting two elderly women sharing a quick but passionate kiss in what they thought was a deserted supermarket aisle in a Crumlin shopping center, Conroy was emboldened to ask them about their lives, and this award winning play is the fascinating result.
In the beginning the two women were mortified that they were spotted at all. As one of the two Alices makes clear early on, having lived discreet lives on the very margins of Irish society, at first they were concerned for their safety, and then they were simply incredulous that anyone would be interested in their little love story at all.
It turned out they had been a couple sharing a home together for 29 happy years. As luck would have it they shared the same name, Alice, and one of them had once been married to a thoroughly decent man but he passed away young at 31.
The married Alice had never been in love with her husband, she reveals, but she had loved him deeply, and it was the greatest regret of her life that they had married in the first place.
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