Jennifer Thalman Kepler and Laura Ellis in “Alice in Black and White” | Photo by Holly Stone

There are a slew of reasons Looking for Lilith Theatre Co. is bringing back “Alice in Black and White” to the Kentucky Center stage this week, and while some of those include March being Women’s History Month and the company celebrating its 15th anniversary, the main one is because it’s a damn fine play.

The subject of the story is Alice Austen (1866-1952), one of the country’s earliest female photographers. She knew her way around a camera, capturing more than 8,000 images throughout her career, and her photos were aesthetic and accessible. Austen also made waves as a lesbian — definitely not accepted by society in that day — and spent more than 50 years with her partner, Gertrude Tate.

Alice Austen on a fencepost, circa 1900 | Courtesy of Alice Austen House

Sadly, Austen fell into poverty and obscurity by the late ’40s, and her story was all but forgotten by history until a journalist, Oliver Jensen, discovered her work.

“Alice in Black and White” was written by New York-based playwright Robin Rice, and it was first performed by Looking for Lilith in Louisville in 2013, and just last August, the company premiered it in New York City with most of the original cast.

Now, it’s returning to the Kentucky Center from March 9-18, again with most of the original cast and director (and Looking for Lilith co-artistic director) Kathi E.B. Ellis.

Ellis tells Insider they played to sold-out houses for the show’s two-week run in New York and even got mentioned by The New York Times. Bringing it back to Louisville now just seemed right.

“Our commitment to examining history from women’s perspectives dovetailed well with Robin’s script, which blends research and imaginative reconstructions of Alice,” says Ellis of Rice. “Robin wrote the play to have several actors play multiple parts — a norm within Lilith productions.”

Laura Ellis, Megan Rose Adair and Jennifer Thalman Kepler in “Alice in Black and White” | Photo by Holly Stone

The mission of Looking for Lilith is to lift up and stand with unheard voices, and this play does just that. It also touches upon storylines common in everyone — finding a soulmate, following your passion, living life on your terms.

“Now, as we produce a story that feels like coming home, we are also very conscious that the freedoms and tolerances we were beginning to think we could assume as normal in the 21st century are under siege,” explains Ellis. “Now, more than ever, Looking for Lilith has a responsibility to re-energize ourselves and our audiences to be vigilant in the face of legislation and individual attitudes that seek to turn the clock back.”

“Alice in Black and White” runs March 9-11, 13 and 16-18 at 7:30 p.m., and a matinee at 2 p.m. on March 18, at the Kentucky Center’s MeX Theater. Tickets are $21, or $16 for students and seniors.

Sara Havens
Sara Havens is the Culture Editor at Insider Louisville, known around town as the Bar Belle (barbelleblog.com). She's a former editor of LEO Weekly and has written for Playboy and The Alcohol Professor. Havens is the author of two books: "The Bar Belle" and "The Bar Belle Vol. 2."