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Writer Calvin Trillin returns to his hometown for Kansas City premiere of 'About Alice'

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Richard Stamelman
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Kansas City native Calvin Trillin will return to the area for the local premiere of his play, "About Alice."

Kansas City Actors Theatre is producing the two-person play about Calvin Trillin's late wife. The play was adapted from his memoir of the same name.

The 2001 death of Alice Stewart Trillin devastated her husband. The educator, writer and television producer died of heart failure at the age of 63.

“I think of her every day. I don’t think that’s going to ever change,” Calvin Trillin told KCUR's Up To Date. “She said what she thought, and it was often quite interesting.”

“And she was very pretty,” he added.

A journalist and humorist, Calvin Trillin, now 86, has published 31 books, including political verse, humor columns and writings about food. His memoir “About Alice,” published in 2006, paid tribute to his beloved wife a few years after her death.

Trillin worked with Theatre for a New Audience in Brooklyn, New York, to adapt "About Alice" as a two-person play, which premiered in 2019. This week, Kansas City Actors Theatre opens the Kansas City premiere at Union Station’s City Stage, which runs Aug. 17-28.

Alice and Calvin were married for 35 years. Alice was described as “sometimes his subject, and always his muse.”

They met at a Manhattan party in 1963, for what Trillin described as a “failing magazine of political satire” called Monaco.

“Their parties got better as their financial situation got worse and worse,” he said with a laugh.

When she was in her late 30s, Alice, a nonsmoker with parents who smoked, was diagnosed with lung cancer. A lobe of her left lung was removed, and she had chemotherapy treatments. She wrote about the experience in a 1981 article for the New England Journal of Medicine.

“We were lucky to find each other," he said. “We were very lucky until Alice got sick, I think."

As for seeing actors on stage portraying him and his wife, Trillin said, "It's an odd feeling." In the Kansas City Actors Theatre production of "About Alice," actors David Fritts and Jen Mays play the roles.

“If the actors are good — and I have every reason to believe these will be — that feeling goes away,” he said, “and you’re watching a play.”

David and Jen Collage.jpg
Kansas City Actors Theatre
In the Kansas City Actors Theatre production of "About Alice," actors David Fritts and Jen Mays, pictured here, play Calvin and Alice Trillin, respectively.

Trillin grew up in Kansas City, and went on to write columns for Time and The Nation magazines. He is often credited with putting his hometown's barbecue on the map.

In a 1972 article for Playboy magazine, he described Arthur Bryant’s Barbecue, at 1727 Brooklyn Avenue, as “the single best restaurant in the world.”

“Arthur Bryant’s is where I went as a kid, so I had a kind of nostalgia feeling,” he said.

Trillin has also written for The New Yorker since 1963. For a time, he traveled the country for his magazine columns, often writing about food. Some of these essays featured his wife and two daughters, Abigail and Sarah, and were turned into the books “Alice,” “Let’s Eat” and “American Fried.”

“I was writing about eating partly as a way of making jokes, and a way of writing about other things,” he said. “It was a way of writing about the country in a lighter way.”

Trillin plans to return to Kansas City this weekend for the Kansas City Actors Theatre production of "About Alice" and what he called a “micro-family reunion,” including his daughters, sister and nephews.

According to Trillin, his sister is scheduled to pick him and one of his daughters up from the airport and head straight to another famed food establishment: Winstead’s.

Trillin said, “Since childhood, (it's) one of the places that sort of spelled Kansas City for me."

Kansas City Actors Theatre presents "About Alice," Aug. 17-28 at City Stage in Union Station, 30 W. Pershing Rd., Kansas City, Missouri 64108.

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Kansas City is known for its style of jazz, influenced by the blues, as the home of Walt Disney’s first animation studio and the headquarters of Hallmark Cards. As one of KCUR’s arts reporters, I want people here to know a wide range of arts and culture stories from across the metropolitan area. I take listeners behind the scenes and introduce them to emerging artists and organizations, as well as keep up with established institutions. Send me an email at lauras@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @lauraspencer.
As senior producer of Up To Date, I want our listeners to hear familiar and new voices that shine light on the issues and challenges facing the myriad communities KCUR serves, and to expose our audiences to the wonderful and the creative in the Kansas City area. Just as important to me is an obligation to mentor the next generation of producers to ensure that the important conversations continue. Reach me at alexanderdk@kcur.org.
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