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Performing Arts

In it for ‘Life’

With ‘Still Life,’ Ghostlight takes on unfamiliar work. It pays off with a strong production.

Larry Laneer August 10th, 2011

Still Life
8 p.m. Friday-Saturday through Aug. 27
Ghostlight Theatre Club
3110 N. Walker

Alexander Dinelaris’ 2009 drama, “Still Life,” is set in New York City among characters that not too long ago were known as “yuppies.” So how goes it with this socioeconomic group once so full of themselves?

According to Dinelaris, they are dissatisfied, unfulfilled and suddenly have realized that time rolls on inexorably. As the Grim Reaper now starts to pluck up parents and even some of their own peers, these pampered professionals ask themselves exactly what of significance they have accomplished.

The title is close to “still alive,” but who knows for how long? Life can really suck, man.

Staged by Christi Newbury in her directorial debut for Ghostlight Theatre Club, “Still Life” presents characters that may evoke sympathy, but not empathy. You relate to what they’re going through, but you don’t necessarily feel their pain.

Carrie Ann Daly (the fine Jeni White) is a photographer of some repute who’s suffering a pre-midlife crisis. She meets Jeffrey (David Mays), a “trend analyst,” who can be somewhat of a glib know-it-all. They prop up each other as the vicissitudes of life teach them that maybe the most important thing isn’t the big gallery show or cashing in on the next big fad. Jeffrey works with Terry (Ian Clinton), who, let me tell you, is something else.

Fine, experienced and widely admired actors, Clinton and Mays play somewhat against type. Mays’ Jeffrey is a flaming heterosexual, albeit considerate and sensitive. Clinton’s Terry is a jerk of the first water, a coked-up bully afraid of being exposed as the loser he is. He’s so viciously vile that those of us he has trampled on his way to the top enjoy the catharsis of schadenfreude late in the play.

Dinelaris has constructed a play that intelligently confronts serious issues, logically follows a discernible storyline and has an ending that is both tragic and hopeful. “Still Life” is not one of the great American plays, but it is a solid dramatic work. The play has sort of a professional slickness, and that’s meant as a compliment.

“Still Life” comprises many scenes, some quite short, and Newbury finds a way to stage things with efficiency and economy, which has eluded some directors in GTC’s congenial, but tricky storefront space. Aided by Scott Hynes’ lighting, Newbury keeps the work moving and gives the production an underlying energy.

All of the plays and playwrights in Ghostlight’s current season are new to me. At a time when some theater companies pull back and offer a safe season of mainly hoary chestnuts, GTC takes risks on unfamiliar work. Whether they are worth doing remain to be seen, but one must appreciate Ghostlight for trying.

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