‘Alias Brett:’ UT play hits timely topics

Sandra ClarkFeature, Gossip and Lies

Wow. What a show.


The woman looks straight ahead and talks to each individual in the room. She’s stoic at times, emotional at others. She’s either a huge victim or the biggest liar you’ve met. Or perhaps she’s just crazy. It’s also possible that she speaks only truth which is refracted by the listener to become his or her truth.

“Alias Grace” is pretty much whatever you want her to be.

Let’s give the FBI a week to sort it out.

Now playing at the Clarence Brown Theatre’s Carousel, “Alias Grace” is a stark, jarring adaptation of the Margaret Atwood novel of the same name. It’s based on a true story – the murder of Thomas Kinnear and his pregnant housekeeper, Nancy Montgomery. Grace Marks, just 16 at the time, and stable hand James McDermott were convicted of the murders and sentenced to death. He was hanged, but her sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. After serving some 30 years, she was released. She changed her name and relocated to the United States.

OK. So I’d enjoy plays more if I’d stop thinking about politics. But the parallels between this play and last week’s Kavanaugh hearings are just too strong.

Brett Kavanaugh knows privilege. Type “white male privilege” into Google and three pictures of Kavanaugh appear. His out-of-control performance before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week should have eliminated him from appointment to the highest court in the land, regardless of the veracity of Christine Ford’s allegation.

Thomas Kinnear, the lord of the manor in “Alias Grace,” had absolute control over members of his household – Nancy Montgomery who desperately wanted to become his wife; Grace Marks, the teenage newcomer who caught his fancy; and young McDermott, who had to submit to both Kinnear and Montgomery.

Karen Kessler, the play’s insightful director, shared some of Atwood’s words from the book that were not spoken in the play. Read and reflect:

“Men such as him do not have to clean up the messes they make, but we have to clean up our own messes, and theirs into the bargain.”

“What is believed in society is not always the equivalent of what is true.”

Wow. What a story.

Whatever happened between Christine Ford and Brett Kavanaugh in 1982 meant so little to him that he can’t remember it. It was so traumatic to her that she lives in a house with two front doors.

Whatever happened in the Kinnear household in 1843 resulted in Kinnear shot dead, Montgomery hacked to pieces, McDermott later hanged, and Grace declared insane.

Atwood once said if she could have figured out whether Grace was guilty or a victim, whether sane or mad, she wouldn’t have found the story so interesting.

We’ll get the FBI report on Kavanaugh this week and Mitch McConnell has promised to “plow right through” with Kavanaugh’s appointment to the Supreme Court. Whichever way that goes, most of us will need a break. May I suggest a night out – perhaps dinner and a play.

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