Young at Heart presents ‘Still Alice’ regional premiere
From left, Cher Collins, Cassandra Engber, Steve Straswer, Chelsey Hall, Brandon Shockney, Rachel Oprea and Shawn Hooks comprise the cast of Young at Heart Players’ regional premiere of “Still Alice,” slated for Nov. 22-Dec. 1 at the Dayton Playhouse.
By Russell Florence Jr.
Contributing Writer
Senior-themed Young at Heart Players opens its 2019- 2020 season with the regional premiere of Christine Mary Dunford’s 2013 adaptation of Lisa Genova’s 2007 novel “Still Alice” Nov. 22-Dec. 1 at the Dayton Playhouse.

Filmed in 2014 featuring Julianne Moore’s Academy Award-winning performance, “Still Alice” tells the heartbreaking story of linguistics professor Alice Howland, diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Supported by her husband and two children, Alice grapples with the complexities of her new, life-altering path.

“I think the script really captures the effects of this devastating disease not only on the person affected, but the entire family,” said Cassandra Engber, who stars in the title role and most recently appeared in Dayton Theatre Guild’s “Nice Girl.”

“It also shows the different stages of grief each person goes through while trying to cope with the multiple losses caused by Alzheimer’s.

Each character reacts differently to the changes that are occurring with Alice.

In my portrayal, I hope to convey Alice’s struggle to keep her identity and personhood intact in the face of this disease destroying that very thing bit by bit. And yet, even though this is happening, there is a resilience to Alice I want to bring forth.”

In a significant departure from the film, the play incorporates an omnipresent character named Herself, representing Alice’s frame of mind, observing and engaging with her as the disease takes hold.

“Alice’s inner thoughts as another character is particularly impactful,” Engber said. “It offers the audience a rare insight into what Alice is actually experiencing and what strategies she tries to use to help herself navigate the twists and turns she’s going through as she struggles with the disease.”

“Having Herself in this play makes the story more theatrical,” said director Annie Pesch. “In the movie, you just see Alice’s expressions and you don’t know exactly what’s going on in her mind.

In the play, there are actual conversations between Alice and Herself about what Alice is thinking and feeling.

“As is the case with many Alzheimer’s plays, movies and books, (the tone) can become very heavy and very dark, but we are trying to look to the hope within the story,” Pesch said. “The hope within the circumstances for the characters, the coming to acceptance with the loss of Alice and her mind and being able to love her and be there for her. There are still darker moments, but there 

are also moments of love and hope which will hopefully inspire people who are going through this journey.”

In addition to Rachel Oprea as Herself, the cast includes Cher Collins, Chelsey Hall, Shawn Hooks, Brandon Shockney, and Steve Strawser.

“‘Still Alice’ is a very worthwhile, relevant character study,” added Young at Heart Players founder Fran Pesch.

“It’s so important to treasure each day because every day is a gift.”

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What: “Still Alice”

Where: Dayton Playhouse, 1301 E.

Siebenthaler Ave., Dayton When: Nov. 22-Dec.1; 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 2 p.m.

Sundays Cost: $15 adults; $12 seniors and students (open seating) Tickets: Call (937) 654-0400 to make a reservation More info: youngatheartplayers. com FYI: The play is performed in 100 minutes without intermission. Also, a portion of the proceeds will benefit the Miami Valley Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association.