Review by Megan Mitchell
Still is an award winning play by New York playwright Jen Silverman, and adds to her catalogue of surreal, quirky theatre. The play is an exploration of motherhood and grief; a snapshot into a moment in time when three women’s lives converge, tied together by the unlikely figure of a newborn baby (played by adult actor, Joey Lai).
It follows a loose narrative, which slowly weaves together the lives of Dolores (Sara Bolch), Morgan (Joanne Booth) and Elena (Elisa Armstrong) as they each ruminate on their relationship with motherhood. The play is surreal, suspended in an unreality straddling real life and the supernatural. Director Sarah Vickery created a lovely harmony between the script and her stage direction, emphasising the strangeness of the relationships while holding the audience comfortably in this unfamiliar world.
It is apparent from the memorable, visceral and grotesque opening where newborn baby Constantinople addresses the audience basically naked and dripping with goo that the play will explore stillbirth in a fantastical way. From there we see Morgan battling to come to terms with losing her child, midwife Elena facing the possibility of losing her licence, and Dolores reflecting on whether being an 18-year-old dominatrix is actually what she wants in life.
I found myself wondering how Silverman even conceived of this idea, let alone created a coherent piece out of it, but the execution was well done. The writing was very strong, with clever humour and characterisation, while some lines landed deep in your chest and required a moment to process.
The real strength of this production was in the middle section. The beginning felt a little shaky and disjointed across the board, and it was unclear whether this was the show itself or simply a case of opening night nerves. The ending as well I felt dragged, although that seemed to be in the writing. Fortunately, 15 mins in, the performers found their footing and fell into a rhythm that kept the audience totally engaged.
The cast really blossomed in their scenes together, working off one another. Lai’s strength was in his physical movement and expression; the combination of long limbs, long hair, and unnatural movement all while dripping with goo was unnerving. He did a great job of maintaining this unearthly charm throughout the entire 90-minute production. Bolch has a lovely vulnerability to them, and when the scenes allowed for that, they really shone. Their wry delivery and physical embodiment of Dolores were well-suited to the role. Armstrong in her role as Elena really owned the space, her engaging voice and presence bringing an interesting dynamic to the show as a strong-willed woman whose carefully crafted existence is threatened. And Booth demonstrated great endurance in taking on the difficult role of a grieving mother, her interactions with Dolores allowing for some necessary nuance.
From a broader perspective, I thought the lighting and soundscape elevated the story, being interesting in its own right without being distracting. It took place in two locations, which wasn’t actually clear – and in fact given the surrealist nature of the play I actually didn’t need context or a clear environment, and found myself taken out of the play whenever they mentioned a physical location. The costuming was detailed and spot on.
Still is a thought-provoking rumination on motherhood, stillbirth and identity, exploring it in a way you almost definitely haven’t seen before. It is a memorable piece of theatre, and is showing at 45 Downstairs until the 11th of July.
Image Credit: Angel Leggas