Thursday, September 24, 2009

Still Life

"Still Life" presented by MCC Theater at the Lucille Lortel Theatre, September 20, 2009

In what will likely be referred to as Alexander Dinelaris' "therapy" play, the playwright attempts to exorcise himself of the demons which lingered after the death of his father. (Spoiler alert)

The result, though it may have been cathartic for Mr. Dinelaris, is an indulgent, bitter and rambling affair surrounding a photographer, Carrie Ann (Sarah Paulson) with "shutter" block following
the death of her photographer father Theo (Dominic Chianese), whom she adored.

Carrie Ann meets Jeffrey (Frederick Weller), a marketing wunderkind who has just saved his slimy boss Terry (Matthew Raush) from losing a major account. Terry, a Neil LaBute character in search of a play, embodies the vapid, soulless nature of "business" enabled by Jeffrey's skill as a trend analyst.

Just as Carrie Ann and Jeffrey fall in love, guess who gets cancer? Carrie Ann gets a gig shooting in Africa for National Geographic, taking along a fawning-and-unconfident-yet-very-talented student, Jessie (Halley Feiffer). Jeffrey, seeing the error of his ways after seeing Carrie's last photo series of dead animals (shot while her father was dying), determines to send his little bird on her way, not telling her of his cancer.

Then there are the subplots:
  • Terry's drinking and drugs leading to an affair with a married co-worker, firing an unseen employee in his own crisis, followed by him debasing a female bartender then almost dying on the floor of the bar.
  • Sarah's job teaching a college photography class in a department headed by a woman who used to date Carrie's father (Adriane Lenox)
  • Jeffrey's doctor-best-friend Sean (Ian Kahn) and his wife Mary (Kelly McAndrew) who tend him through his death.
Sound exhausting?

It was that and tedious simultaneously.

Ms. Paulson warms the writing of this cool and aloof character. She has some tender and vulnerable moments, but can't make the creaky dream/flashback sequences make sense on her own. Mr. Weller is charming and sympathetic. Mr. Rauch is so greasy/sleazy you want to wash your hands at intermission.

Mr. Dinelaris' first act works as well as might be expected, despite the predictable curtain moment. Act II feels more like a screenplay, chopped up into too many short scenes, cutting back and forth between dreams, Africa and NYC. It might work cinematically, but just feels distracting.

Director Will Frears could tighten up the pace a bit, along with some judicious cuts to focus more on Carrie and Jeffrey's story, leaving out a number of the subplot scenes I mentioned above and reconsidering the dream sequences. David Korins' minimal set works well, though I guess David Weiner confirms that all African settings must be lit in a saffron/amber, just like "Impressionism" and "Lion King." Sarah Holden's costumes are serviceable, but the photographer-as-artist torn jeans she's put on Ms. Paulson aren't doing anyone any favors.

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