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Still Life

Alexander Dinelaris' play about a photographer at an emotional crossroads is well-acted and consistently engaging. logo
Sarah Paulson and Frederick Weller in Still LIfe
(© Robert J. Saferstein)
The disaffection that many Gen X-ers have for their lives is put under the microscope in Alexander Dinelaris' Still Life, which is getting its world premiere by MCC at the Lucille Lortel Theater. The play centers on Carrie Ann (a captivatingly luminous Sarah Paulson, who seems to simultaneously channel Cynthia Nixon and Sarah Jessica Parker), a photographer with a decidedly dark worldview who is at an emotional and professional crossroads. While the work may not always be completely in focus, in Will Frears' tidy and taut staging, the piece is never anything less than engaging.

Carrie Ann's crisis has been brought on by the death of her father, Theo (Dominic Chianese). Since his passing, she's not been able to pick up her camera. A job teaching photography to college students -- an opportunity that comes her way thanks to her dad's one time lover Joanne (an underused Adriane Lenox) -- and a surprising romance with hotshot ad man Jeffrey (played with forceful ease and genuine vulnerability by Frederick Weller) seem to be two ways in which Carrie Ann might reconnect with the world around her and her art. But neither the teaching gig, her involvement with a star pupil (imbued with pitiably neurotic sweetness by Halley Feiffer) nor her quickly moving relationship with Jeffrey -- who is facing a crisis of his own -- are able to inspire her or pull her away from her sad stasis.

Dinelaris' canvas of spiritually challenged thirty-somethings extends to Terry (a superlatively smarmy, completely riveting Matthew Rauch), Jeffrey's womanizing and morally corrupt boss; Sean (Ian Kahn), a physician and Jeffrey's friend since childhood; and Mary (Kelly McAndrew), Sean's wife. Terry's moral bankruptcy is overt and nearly complete while Sean's is much more subtle: throughout the play, he compromises his professional ethics by advising his friend off-the-record. Only the upbeat Mary seems to have managed to reach adulthood with some cheeriness intact, but in McAndrew's nuanced performance, theatergoers may wonder how much of her outward happiness is merely for show.

Despite Dinelaris' shrewd characterizations and the cast's carefully considered performances, stretches of Still Life seem forced and hollow. The back story and ramifications of Joanne's relationship with Carrie Ann and her father never ring true. Similarly, Terry's brazen come-ons to women seem like pale imitations of macho behavior for the 1990s rather than the behavior of a desensitized man in the early 21st Century.

Yet despite its flaws, the play remains interesting, thanks to its sometimes sharp insights and frequently crackling dialogue. It's a series of theatrical snapshots that simply need to be more cohesively ordered.

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