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Being Alive
a Drama
by Doug Graham

COMPANY : The Fern Theatre Company [WEBSITE]
ID# 4590

SHOWING : June 12, 2014 - June 28, 2014



When your dreams are crumbling and your life is not what you pictured how do you go on?

Jim Hand is a struggling father of three teens desperately trying to keep his life together. Despite maintaining his ever cheery attitude and doing everything he believes a good father should, it seems nothing ever goes his way. His oldest son comes out as gay, his daughter is a drug addict and he doesn’t know the first thing about his youngest son. Add a mysterious messenger who seems to have objectives of her own as she repeatedly delights in informing Jim of all the terrible things that are about to happen in his life.

Director Kirk Harris Seaman
Alex Hand Matthew Busch
Woman/Messenger/Lauren Leigh-Ann Campbell
Jim Hand Andy Fleming
Teddy Hand Adam Daniel King
Jen Hand Bryn Striepe
Chris Trey York
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by playgoer
Sunday, June 15, 2014
DRUGS. GAY SEX. FATE. DEATH. INFIDELITY. Doug Graham’s "Being Alive" tackles all these themes and more. The Hand family seems cursed. Bad things happen to them. Of the five that once were, only two remain alive by the end. As you might guess, it’s a pretty serious affair.

The play starts out with coarse, loud, obnoxious Jen, the daughter, carrying on a conversation with a mysterious woman as Jen drinks liquor and snorts drugs. She claims not to have been speaking to anyone when younger son Teddy shows up and confronts her. Their fight is broken up by father Jim, who sings the "Helping Hands" song to set them on the right path. The kids, now including older son Alex (along with his best friend Chris) bemoan the fact that their family dynamic is all messed up following the death of their mother.

The play continues on, with the mysterious woman appearing to father Jim too, and bombshells of plot points are dropped at regular intervals. We come to realize that the mysterious woman is a spirit, at times the dead mother and at times a messenger of Fate. It all works pretty well, with loose ends all tied up, but there’s a LOT of plot points to resolve. The final plot point, concerning a fight with the mother that reveals information to the father he earlier seemed not to know, is the only one that doesn’t ring quite true. It introduces a melodramatic element that comes too late and doesn’t resonate with what we’ve seen before.

The uncredited set design generally works well. A window and scrim upstage provide a nice backdrop, and the living room sofa stage left and the kitchen bar-height table stage right fill the remaining space well. Director Kirk Harris Seaman utilizes audience aisle entrances to good effect, but the first scene of the second act, which takes place on a street outside another house, is staged on the apron of the stage with the furniture in full view, which lessens its impact. Lighting and costume design, by Jessica Fern Hunt, generally work well, although the lighting system wasn’t behaving particularly well at the performance I saw.

The acting ranges from the good to the excellent. Bryn Striepe starts the play with a four-letter-laced screed that makes quite an impression, and she is convincing throughout as an angry, off-kilter teen. Adam King, as Teddy, combines fine acting, singing, and guitar-playing skills to bring his more understated character to life. Andy Fleming, as father Jim, seems most comfortable with his singing, but he does nothing to lessen the impact of the play. Matt Busch and Trey York, as son Alex and his friend Chris, also do convincing work. Leigh-Ann Campbell, as the mysterious woman, brings a magnetic presence and a wonderfully expressive face to her role(s). The acting is definitely worth seeing.

The play itself tries perhaps to cram too much into its two-hour running time. In the second act, in particular, the one-on-one scenes overstay their welcome by a bit, making the reference to "sitting around all day talking about death" hit a little too close to home. The affirmative moments at the end of the play leaven the gloom of the plot enough to provide a satisfying conclusion.

The Fern Theatre is presenting "Being Alive" in the intimate auditorium of The Beam. It’s a good performing space (aside from instability in the lighting system), and the sightlines are excellent. It bodes well for the remainder of the season’s New Play Development Series, in which each staged reading will take place in a different venue. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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