The theme of motherhood fades in Still
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Post-containment independent theater appears to be dominated by maternity issues. Again is the third game on the run – after Cactus at La Mama and Iphigenia to Splott at Red Stitch – drawing its dramatic strength from pregnancy and motherhood, and it’s arguably the most forward-thinking.
The stories of New York playwright Jen Silverman have graced our stages before. There was a dark and dazzling production of his gothic satire Moors – a queer bodice ripper featuring the Bronte sisters and a big dog – directed by Stephen Nicolazzo in 2017. In Again, however, his whimsy cuts off the serious subject in a way that seems almost facetious, before retreating into overcompensating sentimentality.
A dream piece exploring stillbirth and abortion, Again calls on an adult male actor to play a dead baby named Constantinople. This task falls to the slender Joseph Lai who, covered in mud, delivers a grotesque performance marked by a strange and strangely graceful physical theater.
The grieving mother of the stillborn, Morgan (Joanne Booth), a culpable midwife Elena (Elisa Armstrong) and a “delinquent dominatrix” Dolores (Sarah Bolch), whose abortion plan is delayed by the visits of the deceased of Constantinople.
The play doesn’t establish any believable emotional tone as it weaves its way between the flat, dying mother’s grief and completely comedic scenes – how else could one play an exchange between a dominatrix and a dead child? – who continue to crumble under the weight of their own despair. At one point, the dialogue resorts to jokes about dead babies.
The dreamlike action seems designed precisely so that the mother can distribute pearls of wisdom without judgment as the dominatrix decides to have an abortion, and thus the young woman will make the mother say goodbye to her dead child and find peace. .
And with that, the promise of something truly daring fades into something pat, a predictable path to elevation that will leave you feeling manipulated.
It doesn’t help the performances are undercooked, although any cast can struggle to generate a viable enhanced performance style from a piece as shapeless and serious as this one.