The Waiting Period before the Phone Call
In these days of terrorist attacks, much has been written about the terrorists themselves, the brave heroic rescuers, the victims, but little has been written about the horrible “waiting period” between the attack and THE PHONE CALL confirming the death of a loved one. Until now that is. Still Life, by Barbara Blumenthal-Ehrlich, produced by Florward Flux productions made a valiant attempt to present the angst of two relatives, a husband and his mother-in-law as they await the phone call, confirming that his wife, and her daughter have been caught up in a subway explosion in New York City.
Lydia, played by Gretchen Douma, is a widowed Travel Agent-that is to say practicing an obsolete profession-who has a close relationship with what appears to be her only child, Jackie, with whom she has a lunch-time chat every day on the telephone. Generally she consuls her daughter not to leave her husband or have an affair. A female photographer, who has a studio in the same building, pops in everyday during this chat to take her picture, presumably for a study in continuity…until one day Lydia is not there.
Oddly, early that morning while Lydia is still in the shower, Donald, the son-in-law, played by Brandon J. Simmons, shows up sweaty in his pajamas, having run from his apartment, with the devastating news that there have been massive terrorist bombings of the subways. Semi-hysterically, he adds that Jackie had called him from one of the subway platforms, five minutes before the attack, right before she got on the train.
The two spend the next week together in Lydia’s apartment, mostly bickering in loud unpleasant voices to cover up their need for each other and rarely connecting on a human level or giving each other the help and support they need. In spite of everything, they are bonded together by their shared love of Jackie but they rarely express it positively.
As a result, although the actors, do an excellent job, the script is weak and the direction emphasized the weakness of the script. It is very difficult to have two actors on stage for 90 minutes when most of what they do is bicker, but to have them bicker in loud voices in a small space is deadly.
Also, for bickering to interest an audience, you need zippy zingy dialogue and although the author tried desperately to make the dialogue interesting, a lot of it just did not make much sense and fell flat. It would have been a much better script if she had just let the characters express their emotions in a straight forward manner rather than trying to turn it into a Neil Simon comedy.
Also there was not much of a dramatic arc and a third character, the photograph was incoherently thrown into the mix but did little but screech and confuse what was happening on stage. A good vocal coach could have solved the screeching problem.
Although Still Life has been work-shopped for over a year, it does need more work ( this is the first performance). The basic premise is excellent: a mother-in-law, who refers to her son-in law, to his face, as “my idiot son-in-law,” plus a son-in-law, who refers to his mother-in-law, to her face, as “my annoying mother-in-law,” basically do not like each other very much. However, since they were drawn together by mutual grief and loss, the playwright could have made much more of the play than she did. I hope Forward Flux perseveres and turns this into something life-affirming than rather an unpleasant sit-com.
Still Life Forward Flux Productions. Kaladi Coffee Shop/Gay City Bookstore, 517 E. Pike ( at Belmont) Capitol Hill Seattle, WA 98122. Wed-Sat September 16 – October 3, 2015 www.ForwardFlux.com,