Still Alice, the current production at the Richmond Theatre, is based on a 2007 novel by Lisa Genova, a Harvard neuro-scientist turned-novelist. Genova originally self-published the novel, which was then acquired by an established publishing house and became a best-seller, followed by a highly successful, academy -award -winning film in 2014. The stage version is based on an adaptation by Christine Mary Dunford.

Genova’s idea for the story came from her experience of her grandmother’s Alzheimer’s disease which she transposes into a story about the fate of a brilliant professor of linguistics, Alice, from Harvard University who develops early onset Alzheimer’s. The story unfolds as a series of brief scenes, episode by episode, each carefully crafted and designed to express how Alice’s illness manifests itself in different ways with differing impacts and implications both for herself and her family, a husband and two grown children, son and daughter.

Dunford’s adaptation is outstanding - each of the scenes presents just enough to convey what we need to know about the medical issue and how it impacts emotionally and practically on Alice and those around her. This conciseness of the scenes gives them a dramatic power - a potential which would not be effective without the quality of acting which is present.

The acting (by the cast as a whole) is at a consistently high level (which clearly owes something to the quality of direction) and helps bring across a real sense of what it means to have such a condition. The impact of this is strong enough to provoke added reflections on the issue of personal identity – how much of our identity and sense of who we are depends on our knowledge and memory of specifics reference points around us. The effectiveness of the acting also prevents the play from slipping into melodrama which is always a danger for a play with illness or disease as a subject matter– it remains moving and real in its impact and the overall effect is to engender engagement with and sympathetic understanding of Alice’s personal dilemma.

The staging and design, a simple, domestic kitchen interior, emphasizes the internal and family aspect of the drama, and the solemn and understated background music, support both the mood and meaning of play. The series of short scenes build not so much to a heightened climax but to a deepened understanding of the medical issues of Alzheimer’s and one person’s response to a crisis from her own and her family’s perspective. This is a superb and thought-provoking production- definitely worth seeing.