Review: STILL

by Lynn on March 9, 2016

in The Passionate Playgoer

At Studio 102, 376 Dufferin, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Jen Silverman
Directed by Ali Joy Richardson
Set and Costume Design by Michelle Tracey
Sound by Nicolas Potter
Lighting by Steve Vargo
Cast: Christopher Allen
Alicia Richardson
Julie Tepperman
Annemieke Wade

Jen Silverman is a young playwright with interesting ideas that are only touched on in her play. She needs to focus on one or two things in this play, not four, to make the work cohesive and not seem scattered. The cast is valiant.

The Story. Constantinople is a wide-eyed, exuberant, wonder-filled baby who is two days old. In fact he was still born and has been dead two days but he considers himself two days old. He has gone looking for his mother who played the Ramones when she was pregnant, which he liked. He also hears her crying now which he doesn’t like. He is on a journey to soak in the wonders of this world he can’t really enjoy because he’s, well, dead.

His mother, Morgan, is grieving. She is a 41-year-old university rofessor, divorced, who wanted to have the baby at home by mid-wife but there was trouble. An ambulance was called and Morgan was rushed to the hospital where Constantinople was still born. Morgan wants to bury her son but is told that the hospital can’t find him. This naturally freaks her out. We know where the baby is; he’s on his journey to find his mother.

Dolores is a young dominatrix. She dresses in a provocative black leather get up with leather hot pants; a leather bra and various leather straps joining it all. She wears the requisite boots as well. She’s just found out that she’s pregnant and wants to get rid of the baby.

Elena is the mid-wife involved in Constantinople’s birth. Because something went wrong—we never actually find out what—Elena wants to do penance, to be punished, so she comes to Dolores to be abused.

Eventually Constantinople meets Dolores and they bond, perhaps as two young children bond, because in a way they are. Constantinople asks Dolores to write a letter for him, to his mother, and to deliver it. When Dolores goes to give Morgan the letter—a perfect stranger in this strange get-up has to introducer herself to this grieving woman—Dolores chickens out, the first time. But during the course of the meeting and after, Dolores and Morgan bond, as a child and a parent would bond.

The Production. I have never seen the usually gloomy space at Studio 102 look so good, thanks to Michelle Tracey’s set. There is a stone back wall, comfortable furniture that represents Morgan’s home; and a black table stage left, representing Dolores’ digs. She does her dominating on that table. And the lighting is bright and warm, not garish.

Constantinople is played by an efflorescent, always smiling Christopher Allen. He wears a short smock covering made of opaque plastic. He is barefoot. Voila the still born baby. His first encounter with a person is Dolores, played by Alicia Richardson with attitude and a gift for the quick barb. This character is in peril of being a one note tough-on-the-outside-mush-on-the-inside kind of woman, but Richardson and her director Ali Joy Richardson make sure that doesn’t happen.

Julie Tepperman brings great humanity to the role of Elena, the disgraced mid-wife. The playwright, Jen Silverman has not really fleshed out the character of Elena—there is so much we want to know about her—that at times Elena sounds overly self-critical and it comes from no-where.

Finally as Morgan, the grieving mother, Annemieke Wade is a walking wound of sorrow and anger. She revisits painful memories in an effort to discover if she could have prevented what happened. That she’s not sure adds to her grief.

Director Ali Joy Richardson, also the force behind this project, is an unfussy director, not show-offy. She manoeuvres her cast with ease and confidence. There are lovely touches in the production—Morgan at one point wears an unbuttoned shirt over a t-shirt. You can see a bit of the t-shirt and it says “Ramones” on it. Lovely touch.

Comment. This is Jen Silverman’s first play and the first professional performance of it. Presumably Silverman wrote this while in university. The play won the 2013 Yale Drama Series Award. It was also performed at the Juilliard School in February 2016.

It’s based in part on the true story of Lisa Heineman (a writer and professor) and her experience giving birth to a still born son. Silverman collaborated with Heineman on the play. In her program note Silverman says that she was trying to reflect the intense emotions in the various situations and that as such truthful representation of events becomes distorted. Her last thought is: “I found that in order to be truthful to tone, I could not be factual about events.” Fair enough.

Silverman has an intriguing sense of humour. Her dialogue for Dolores is sharp, bright, witty and funny in an aggressive way. She has certainly captured the emotional pain and sense of loss of Morgan. The effects of a stillborn birth on the mother—now there are at least 10 plays there.

But the dialogue for Constantinople for the most part is a breathy “Wow.” “Wow.” “The world is wonderful.” “Wow” and ‘wonderful’ are frequently repeated and truth to tell it becomes boring. Why have the character of the dead baby at all if he is going to talk as if he is a person with limited means of expression? Silverman starts off interestingly enough with Constantinople repeating complex words he heard while in the womb, but then looses momentum with Constantinople when he really goes no where in his observations and journey. Sure, I know the character is young and inquisitive. But the fact that he is dead two days and wandering around looking for his mother would suggest that the quirky playwright could do better dialogue for him.

The character of Elena is woefully underwritten. If we don’t have any idea of the problem in the birthing, then how can we have any idea of the character except that she is a flake who wants to be punished? A bit contrived, I think. And the problem with the birth must have been serious for there to be such consequences for Elena.

I am always wary when the playwright has a note telling us the intentions of her play. Intensions aside, the reality in Still, is that it is definitely the play of an inexperienced playwright. I can appreciate Silverman wanting to cover huge chunks of experiences for all four characters. But she doesn’t actually go deep enough or dwell on them equally and therefore the play seems scattered and unfocused. Do we need four stories with two of them tenuous? Is the play supposed to be about the stillborn birth? A re-write might help answer the questions and focus the play.

Presented by Binocular Theatre.

First performance: March 4, 2016.
Closes: March 13, 2016.
Cast: 4, 1 man, 3 women.
Running Time: 90 minutes.

Leave a Comment

Respectful comments are accepted on this site as long as they are accompanied by a verifiable name and a verifiable e-mail address. Posts that are slanderous, libelous or personally derogatory will not be approved.