Alice in Bed is a wonderful concept play, a fantastic idea written deftly. A fantastic off-jumping from the real biographical details of Henry and William James’ sister, the play is an examination of gender, (historically, individually, and universally) a close look at a specific culture that still echos in our own, and one of the densest collections of literary references I can remember at the moment.
It’s a short play, somewhat simple, with extensive direction. There’s a lot of Beckett in here -the density of reference isn’t limited merely to name-dropping; many are stylistic, or variations on a form. It’s plenty cerebral, but at no point does the reader feel that he is watching people-shaped stand-ins for philosophical ideas talk at each other, like one might see in a Don DeLillo novel (no knock against the man, of course). The characters aren’t perfectly round -the whole affair is a bit too surreal for that- but they are entities.
Reading a play is always going to be a very different experience than seeing one performed, and writing a play requires an entirely different set of imaginative muscles than stories or novels. Sontag’s playwriting is clearly informed by the plays of the forty years prior, but is by no means mere emulation. Alice in Bed is a compelling look at depression, at gender, at creative and intellectual abilities and their fulfillment, and it deserves it’s own place at the table.
Recommendation: Go read it! And see it if you can.