<i>Still Life</i>

Laurie Okin and Susan Wilder in Still Life

Location Info:

Rogue Machine Theatre
1089 N. Oxford Ave.
Los Angeles, CA  90029
855-585-5185
Though it aspires to be profound, Alexander Dinelaris’ aptly titled Still Life can’t transcend its commonplace dialogue or the limitations of an inadequately conceived central character.

That character, Carrie Ann (Laurie Okin), is a celebrated photographer whose latest exhibition features photos of dead chickens, which hints at something not quite right in her mind and spirit. Introduced at an arts seminar with great fanfare, she mounts the podium to deliver a quasi-incoherent speech that concludes with the words “We’re all going to die.” Although it's startling in the moment, the audience forgives her because, after all, she is an “artist.” Later we learn that the reason for her strange behavior may be the recent death of her dad (Frank Collison in flashback), also a photographer, who deeply influenced her life and work.

Her photographs do seem to fascinate folks, and they propel Carrie Ann into a meaningful love affair with Jeffrey (Lea Coco); he’s a trends analyst (with an uncommonly ethical spine for someone in advertising) who serendipitously shows up at the event. The attraction is mutual, and the romance blossoms until Jeff’s diagnosis with pancreatic cancer upends their future plans.

The play drags in the first half as it portrays the uncertainties of their developing relationship, typical of a dating situation. Carrie Ann’s history and her struggles to fight depression and remain creative come to us through her conversations with an arts professor (Susan Wilder) who’d once had an affair with Carrie’s father. Jeff’s a straight-shooter whose appealing qualities favorably compare with the crude lechery of his boss Terry (Jonathan Bray), who appears in scene after scene launching crass come-ons to women and blowing his mind with increasing amounts of cocaine.

Things pick up in the second half when illness challenges the lovers to make some hard choices, and the drama coalesces around a concrete event, shedding some of the annoying ambivalences and half-baked digressions (into the nature of feminism, for one) that have gone before. It bears mention that the choices the characters make in this second half also seem contrived.

Directed by Michael Peretzian, the performances are a mixed bag. Both Okin and Coco are genuine and likable in their roles, although their physical attraction often appears somewhat tenuous. Working from a strong center, Coco is on point from start to finish, but Okin is saddled with a backstory, having to do with a “complicated” relationship with her father, that comes off as more contrived than organic. It doesn’t help that the flashback scenes with her dad during his illness do not play persuasively, primarily because Collison's performance is over the top.

As the lecherous Terry, Bray probably has the juiciest role, but his portrayal is adequate, not the scene-stealer it might be. Jennifer Sorenson delivers a smart and entertaining cameo as a not-to-be-snookered barmaid who gives Terry his comeuppance. Tania Verafield (as a talented photography student anxious to please Carrie Ann) and Alexandra Hellquist (in a variety of small roles) lend able support.
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