The Resurrection of Alice is a one-woman play written and performed with historical and contextual precision by Perri Gaffney.
The play, directed by Jackie Alexander, is a monologue chronicaling the trials of a young black girl from the rural South, through her journey to womanhood and eventual triumph, during the era of the American Northern Migration. It is an adaptation of a novel by the same name, and it is running now through December 16, at the Billie Holiday Theatre.
The play begins in 1939 in Smedley, a small, rural town in South Carolina. A seven-year-old girl named Alice (Perri Gaffney) is talking out loud about her life in the South. You learn that she is a smart, perceptive and relatively happy little girl that loves to read. She is the eldest of four children, pretty, confident and the pride of her parents.
The play is tightly written and does an excellent job at weaving in references to some of history's most influential African-American scholars, writers and freedom-fighters. At the same time, the dialogue grounds the audience in the ever-complex labyrinth of African-American traditions.
These traditions – practiced throughout most of the South – arrived innocently as a means of survival for most black families. But these same traditions, often steeped in superstition, later would become a source of the black family structure's undoing.
One such tradition (which still exists today) is making the eldest child the “zample” (example). As the eldest and the “zample,” young Alice was always first to receive her parents’ blessings. But in this role, she also was expected to shoulder amongst her siblings the heaviest burdens.
Not unlike any other poor family you might find in other parts of the world, for the desperately poor of the rural South, an innocent child’s life might be safeguarded, cultivated and then… eventually traded like currency.
When Alice turned 15 and was ready to attend college on a scholarship, she learned she had long ago been betrothed by her parents to marry Mr. Luthern Tucker, an old “family friend.”
Mr. Tucker was one of the few colored folks of wealth in the town, the only “free bird in Medley.” Old Master Tucker, as he was called, was known by the family as a man of access who over the years had granted them many favors. But he also was old enough to be Alice’s grandfather.
The audience follows Alice’s life, from that as a hopeful innocent little girl with a future as bright as any, to becoming a very young bride, all the way through her years of marriage, into a life that destroys her spirit little, by little.
Yet, in Gaffney's writing, we see there remains also a sense of pride around every circumstance Alice finds herself in, as she grabs for inspiration in the accomplishments of past historical leaders.
The Resurrection of Alice is named such, because there is, in fact, a point of redemption: In the end, Alice’s wit wins over her circumstance, as she eventually finds her way back to true love and the authentic life meant for her all along.
Gaffney as Alice, from age 5 to 35, is wholly believable. The play’s old-timey cultural references are spot-on, and the dialogue has enough cultural nuance to give it just the right amount of context.
Because it is a monologue, the play at times, may feel dialogue-heavy, teetering on monotony. But thankfully, Gaffney’s energy remains high throughout, and a multi-media presentation in the background gives the eyes a chance to move around the stage a bit more.
The Resurrection of Alice is a great story for younger generations to learn about the good-bad-and-ugly of life for blacks in the old South. For those who were not there during this time, it's an excellent exercise in historical trivia, as well as a reminder of the greater freedoms forged today to determine our own futures.
For those who were in fact there, The Resurrection of Alice becomes a memento of all the unspoken traditions and the countless forgotten lives of so many young, black girls of that era. Many of these women survive today as the community's great-grandmothers -- quiet, steely remnants of a painful yet proud past.
The Billie Holiday Theatre is located at 1368 Fulton Street in Restoration Plaza. For show times and ticket information, go here.