Review: In ‘Still,’ Confessions Doom Two Reunited Lovers

Review: In ‘Still,’ Confessions Doom Two Reunited Lovers

In her essay “The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction,” the novelist Ursula K. Le Guin hymned the bag as the proper shape for stories: it “is full of beginnings without ends, of initiations, of losses, of transformations and translations, and far more tricks than conflicts.”

One of the characters in Lia Romeo’s “Still,” a writer, carries just such a bag — a possible wink to her fellow novelist. The tote is large enough to house a ukulele, an avocado and a package of macadamia nuts — all of which are divulged in the play’s single moment of spontaneity — but its owner can’t seem to effect any Le Guinian “transformations” or “tricks.” There is a sense of stasis to the aptly named two-hander, which never ripens from a situation into a story.

“Still,” a Colt Coeur production that opened recently at DR2 Theater in the East Village, begins with two characters, former flames, meeting in a bar. Mark (a suave Tim Daly) and Helen (Jayne Atkinson) are in their mid-60s and haven’t seen each other in years. Sharing a bottle of wine, they shoot the breeze about their children and recent divorce (him) and new book and cancer diagnosis (her).

At first, they are content to pretend their past romance has subsided into a platonic relationship, but as the alcohol goes to their heads, they admit to carrying a torch for each other. A highlight of the show is their seduction scene: It’s the first I’ve seen onstage that unabashedly invokes the corporeal indignities of aging. The director Adrienne Campbell-Holt has Mark and Helen walk slowly toward each other while making sotto voce confessions: “I’m missing the nail on my right big toe,” “I have three fake teeth,” “I have arthritis in my knees.” Do I need to spell out what happens next?

Alexander Woodward’s softly lit set spins to reveal a hotel room. Resting against each other in bed, Mark and Helen proceed, post-coitally this time, with their confessions. Mark, who lives in Colorado, is considering relocating to Washington, D.C., to run for Congress, as a “moderate” Republican. “I wish you’d told me that before we ——” Helen says, gesturing limply to the bed with rumpled sheets. She considers herself a liberal, but political differences aren’t the only thing on her mind.

Part of the reason their relationship ended was because she had an abortion. Despite what Mark told her decades ago, he wanted Helen to have the baby. She, on the other hand, had felt — and still feels — that it would have been a mistake. “When we walked out of that clinic, I was — scraped out, and I was sad. But I felt so light, knowing that … all my cells were my own again,” she tells him. The stage is thus set for a real conflict.

Romeo is too smart to turn her characters into slogans for and against abortion rights, but neither does she do anything more than scatter the seeds of a setup. Precisely when we want her to floor the accelerator, she brakes, steps out of her vehicle and abandons her characters. Will Helen publish a memoir about her abortion? Will the book torpedo Mark’s chances of being elected to Congress?

We’ll never know. The play doesn’t end so much as peter off, like the volume dying down in a pair of headphones. That’s too bad because the premise of “Still” is juicy enough for one of Helen’s novels. She may one day turn it into a sequel to her current best seller, but as she knows better than anyone, those can take a vexingly long time to write.

Through May 18 at the DR2 Theater, Manhattan; Running time: 1 hour 15 minutes.

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