Dominic Chianese, Halley Feiffer, Ian Kahn, Adriane Lenox, Kelly McAndrew, Sarah Paulson, Matthew Rauch, Frederick Weller
There’s something incredibly alive about Alexander Dinelaris’s new play Still Life, currently playing at the Lucille Lortel Theatre under the direction of Will Frears. Though the play’s two main characters, photographer Carrie Ann and trend analyst Jeff, are ultimately united by the unstinting declaration that “we’re all going to die,” there are plenty of racing pulses to be found on-stage in this most recent of MCC Theater’s productions, a tragic comedy about the state of our world now.
After the death of her father, Carrie Ann, a talented photographer, finds her creativity stunted. She’s unable to pick up a camera and spends much of her time agonizing over her father’s memory. Attending a gallery opening for an exhibition of photos she took just before her father’s death – of dignified dead animals – she stumbles across Jeff, whose easygoing demeanor and clear-headed occupation (that of trend analyst) instantly attracts her to him.
In a subtle, zany connective plot line, both romantic leads find themselves facing new obstacles in their lives because of chicken – Carrie Ann because her latest batch of photographs chronicles the suffering of poultry, and Jeff because he’s currently at work consulting for his asshole friend Terry’s new Southern Fried Chicken ad campaign. Dinelaris’s smart script combines the tenderness of last season’s drama of stunted artists, Impressionism, with the cutting clash-of-the-sexes wit of Patrick Marber’s Closer with optimal results.
In the lead roles of Carrie Ann and Jeff, Sarah Paulson and Frederick Weller are the standouts of this production. Paulson is heartbreaking in her portrayal of a grandstanding artist who, at heart, is actually incredibly vulnerable. Weller, on the other hand, gives us the sense that Jeff, who has lived most of his life in fear, feels freed by Carrie Ann’s cultural output, inspired by the dignity she bestows upon the concept of death.
Of the supporting cast members, Adriane Lenox exudes no-nonsense blowsiness as Joanne, head of the photograph department at Carrie Ann’s alma mater, where she’s returned to give a lecture, and Matthew Rauch is suitably maniacal as meathead ad exec Terry, with Halley Feiffer adding strong support as Jessie, an eager photography student whose talent Carrie Ann nurtures in her hour of need.
Aided by simple pillars-and-window sets by David Korins and photographically motivated lighting by David Weiner, the production’s overall aesthetic is perfectly outfitted for maximum impact. One of the play’s major themes is the importance of the shots you take as a photographer versus the stinging regret over the ones you don’t.
In Still Life, nearly all the moments chronicled feel well-chosen, give or take a few awkward scenes involving the character of Terry. Frears’s direction keeps the play steamrolling toward its spot-on conclusion, which finds Carrie Ann simultaneously at her breaking point and at the verge of a new stage in her life, the perfect note on which to end a neatly-structured play about messy emotions.