Campy, queer dark comedy ‘Alice Won’t Die’ centers the complexity of love

Alice Won’t Die tells the story of two hitwomen with a complicated history. (Nanako Noda • The Student Life)

Grace Tomblin Marca SC ’22 once heard someone casually mention that they had never seen a car chase on stage, so she made it her mission to include one when writing her play “Alice Won’t Die.” 

“For a long time, I was like, ‘I want to write this story but I can’t think of how to end it,’” she said. “And then I had someone say, as a playwriting tip, to think of things that you’ve never seen on stage.”

An animated car chase, fight scenes, fourth wall breaks, “Tik Tok” by Kesha: “Alice Won’t Die” is a raucous and dark homoerotic action thriller that kept 5C audiences entertained all Halloweekend. It was performed four times in the Seaver Theater large studio at Pomona College. 

The show was put on by The Green Room, a student-run theater group. “Alice Won’t Die” was a completely student-created production, from the writing to the directing to the acting. 

“What’s most special about The Green Room is that we produce primarily student-written and student-crafted work,” said Taelor Hansen PO ’22, who directed “Alice Won’t Die.” “It’s really special to go into a space that’s so focused on what we create in college and stories that come from our college experiences. It feels very, very current.”

Zalia Maya SC ’24 and Lila Rubin PZ ’23 play hitwomen (Alice and Ramona, respectively) navigating a sexual tension-filled friendship. When Alice messes up a job and compromises their safety, Ramona must kill her. However, she does not quite succeed, and as the title of the play indicates, Alice won’t die. Instead, she disappears for eight years before returning with revenge on her mind.

“There’s something interesting about how we love one another and what different kinds of love there are.”—Lila Rubin PZ ’23

The play examines different types of love — romantic, sexual, platonic, familial — in all their messy and destructive glory. 

“Ramona experiences love for each of the characters in a very, very different way,” Rubin said. “There’s something interesting about how we love one another and what different kinds of love there are.” 

Tomblin Marca began working on “Alice Won’t Die” in March 2021 while studying for a semester at the National Theater Institute.

“I’m a huge fan of ‘Killing Eve’ and ‘In Bruges’ and crime comedy and dark comedy, and so a lot of that was swirling around, and I really liked the idea of women in this sphere,” she said. “So I was like, ‘What if I write a story that’s just kind of like a fun little thing about some female assassins?’”

The sexual tension between the two women was coded and subtextual in early drafts, but it surfaced more overtly during revisions. 

“One of the reasons I was hesitant to make it less subtext and more context was [wondering] ‘do I really want representation of queer women to be in a play about murder, where they are very morally gray?’” she said. “I really didn’t want it to be like, ‘here’s this representation, but they’re like awful people.’ I feel so morally weird about that, but it was more interesting to have explicitly queer women and having this kind of complex relationship.”

The play’s relevance to Rubin’s life piqued her interest in auditioning and drew her to the role of Ramona. 

“I’ve always wanted to play some sort of bounty hunter or badass character who does stage combat so when I saw that there was stage combat in the show, I was like, ‘I want to do that,’” Rubin said. “But I also really appreciate the inclusivity of the show. This is the first role that I’ve played that actually fits my sexuality. I’ve always had to play straight characters.”

Maya was excited to work with a student-written play because it provides a unique flexibility for actors in developing their characters.

“I love working with student-written plays because they’re so malleable and they’re so creative,” she said.

Hansen elaborated on the malleability of the script, highlighting the unique opportunity of dynamically incorporating the playwright.

“With modern plays, the scripts are still alive,” she said. “We’re still adapting. The actors have some freedom to really craft the characters and be in conversation with the playwright about it, which is really special.” 

Audience members appreciated the use of certain theatrical elements that contributed to the play’s darkly comedic nature. 

“This play had all of the elements and more that I love to see in theater and that I love to do in theater, including but not limited to fourth wall breaks and stage fighting,” McKenna Blinman SC ’24 said. “The animation was something that I’ve never seen done before in theater. It was so well done.”

According to Maya, that was one of the intended takeaways of “Alice Won’t Die”.

“I hope that the audience leaves the theater with a sense of excitement about what’s to come with theater,” she said. “We’re using a lot of new elements that aren’t showcased in theater a lot.” 

“Alice Won’t Die” had no shortage of humor, with sound effects, song clips and snarky one-liners breaking the tension at just the right moments as Alice and Ramona repeatedly tried to kill each other. But the play ends on a dark note: Alice finally snaps and kills Ramona. After so many failed attempts, and moments they could have killed each other but didn’t, you don’t quite expect it. Alice turns to the audience and begs to start over, to rewind the tape. 

“It’s so funny, I was so close to not doing it,” she muses before rushing offstage. 

This is the crux of the play: taking the will-they-or-won’t-they romantic dynamic to its destructive extreme. It’s about being on the brink of something, whether it’s kissing someone or killing them. Obviously, the consequences of those things are different. But, as Alice reminds us in the final moments, sometimes once you make a decision there’s no going back.

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