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Still

Lia Romeo creates a contemporary fantasia on a love story: two people who loved each other 30 years ago meet for drinks and ruminate on the “what ifs.”

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Tim Daly and Jayne Atkinson in a scene from Lia Romeo’s “Still” at the DR2 Theatre (Photo credit: Joey Moro)

[avatar user=”Tony Marinelli” size=”96″ align=”left”] Tony Marinelli, Critic[/avatar]

There are people in our lives that we just can’t ever forget. It doesn’t necessarily have to be that “first love,” but it usually helps. And then there’s the lover where you knew each other so well you finished each other’s sentences. So, what happens when those lovers don’t see each other for thirty years? In Still, Lia Romeo creates a great vehicle for two sublime actors to explore just that.

Helen has taken all that time to write five novels, one of which spent a few weeks on The New York Times Bestseller List, what Mark sees as the litmus test for whether a writer is a success or whether he or she is just a person that writes. In any event, she has started work on a new piece, but hasn’t dug in deep enough yet to feel comfortable talking about its subject matter. Mark got married, though recently divorced after 29 years and has two now-adult daughters. He has had a long career in law and has made a nice reputation for himself, lately testing the waters at running for Congress. But after 30 years are Helen and Mark the same people they were when they broke up over something very important to both of them?

From the top of the play the conversation is easy…”It’s just one of those questions, like ‘Are soulmates real?’ or ‘Why doesn’t glue stick to the inside of the bottle?’//I never thought about that before.//Soulmates?//No, glue. I’ve thought about soulmates.//What do you think?//It’s got to be something to do with the air, with the way glue reacts when it gets exposed-//I meant about soulmates.//Ah.//Why don’t they stick to the inside of the bottle?” and even when they are speaking about work vs. home, “Most people don’t have a…passion for what they do.//Then they’re doing the wrong thing. You spend, what, a third of your life at work?//A little more than that, if you actually want to be-//People try so hard to find the right partner – but you spend a lot less time with your partner than that.//Well, most people get that wrong too, I think.//Yeah, maybe they do.//You probably heard – Lorraine and I -//I did hear that, yeah. I’m sorry.” It may be thirty years since they have seen each other, but one can’t deny the rhythm to their conversation. They didn’t revert to being strangers. Their hearts appear to beat as one.

Jayne Atkinson and Tim Daly in a scene from Lia Romeo’s “Still” at the DR2 Theatre (Photo credit: Joey Moro)

As “cute” as they are to watch and to listen to, we will be asked to take sides (as unfair as that may sound). Mark alludes to wanting to call her when his mother died, but then he didn’t. So, why now? Mark is too noncommittal as to why he is in town. Even Helen sees something mysterious in “Meetings. Talking to some people about some things.” It would be more polite to respond with a half-lie like, “Oh my work is so boring, do you really want to know?,” but then again they covered that earlier when they both professed to liking what they do. The reference to the non-existent meetings comes after they have already divulged every ailment each has in an effort to pass themselves off as not being worthy of lovers this late in the game. The reference to the non-existent meetings also comes after they have already had sex. So, what’s up?

Even 30 years after their last meeting, Helen holds the bit of information that might make Mark appear insincere on his campaign trail. She doesn’t intend to hold it over his head, but the way he now sways politically is in her mind a huge inconsistency with the man she once loved. She admits she might not have slept with him this evening if she knew he was a Republican, a conservative one at that. This develops into an argument about what is pragmatic as they get older, what constitutes a better world, what kind of life their gay friends will have if they can’t get married in their chosen state…and even a dig at Helen’s privilege and lack of interest in politics when they were in school. This argument escalates into Helen hurling things at Mark from out of her purse…a bag of macadamia nuts, a ukulele and even an avocado…yes, because doesn’t everyone have a ukulele at the ready in just such a situation?

The performances are quite stellar. Jayne Atkinson’s Helen is simply gorgeous. We do see that woman who 30 years ago wore a red dress to a party…and that was enough for Mark and Lorraine to have a fight, as Mark “not to hurt Lorraine” had described Helen as plain. Thirty years later she is still anything but plain. Atkinson is that woman who could have broken up a marriage if Mark and Helen continued communicating over those 30 years. She is vibrant, earthy and quick-witted, all the things Lorraine may not have been. Tim Daly finds that illusive charm in Mark that may or may not allow the audience to forgive that this meeting reeks of the premeditated. He too provides us with an easy glance at what it must have been like for them to be together. He is more prepared for this meeting…the stops and starts and even Helen’s unintentional changes of subject. Daly, despite his character’s references to a heart attack and arthritis, gives us that glimpse of the youthful Mark that Helen fell in love with years ago, and could fall in love with once again.

Jayne Atkinson and Tim Daly in a scene from Lia Romeo’s “Still” at the DR2 Theatre (Photo credit: Joey Moro)

Director Adrienne Campbell-Holt has done a wonderful job of letting the actors find the rhythms in the dialogue. Thirty years melt away; even in uncomfortable subject matter they both go in full throttle. And, as directed, it all feels right. Even in the last exchange of the play we have come to expect nothing else. “What if it’d be worth it to try.//I don’t- //I just think. There are…lots of reasons not to love each other. But what if we did it anyway, what if we loved each other anyway – and we argued about stupid shit, and we argued about important shit, and maybe we broke each other’s fucking hearts.//Again.//Again. And again and again. What if that was okay.//I thought you didn’t believe in what ifs.//I know. I thought so too.” We want to see them together. They should have stayed together 30 years ago.

The play is blessed with a very supportive design team. Alexander Woodward’s stunning bar set with two very comfy chairs in front of a wall that looks like endless wine bottles lit up in shades of blues, greens, yellows and browns which then turns into a swank hotel room is a triumph for a small Off-Broadway house. Reza Behjat’s lighting is sensitive to the reflections of all the surfaces in the bar as well as the moods in the hotel room. The   costumes by Barbara A. Bell are appropriate for people still stylish in their 60’s as they look in the mirror and see that image of a person still in their 40’s. Hidenori Nakajo’s sound design puts us right in the bar with someone playing a piano and all volumes of conversation going on at the same time, and then subtle street noises coming in through the hotel room’s window.

Lia Romeo gives us a tale of “what ifs” that is often touching and always haunting. It would be interesting to survey how many audience members wish they could have that opportunity to rekindle something with someone from their past.

Still (extended through May 23, 2024)

DR2 Theatre, 103 East 15th Street, in Manhattan

For tickets, visit http://www.telecharge.com/off-Broadway/Still/

Running time: 75 minutes without an intermission

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About Tony Marinelli (57 Articles)
Tony Marinelli is an actor, playwright, director, arts administrator, and now critic. He received his B.A. and almost finished an MFA from Brooklyn College in the golden era when Benito Ortolani, Howard Becknell, Rebecca Cunningham, Gordon Rogoff, Marge Linney, Bill Prosser, Sam Leiter, Elinor Renfield, and Glenn Loney numbered amongst his esteemed professors. His plays I find myself here, Be That Guy (A Cat and Two Men), and …and then I meowed have been produced by Ryan Repertory Company, one of Brooklyn’s few resident theatre companies.
Contact: Website

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