by Jana Lillie

The world premiere of Still at the Dorset Theatre Festival is stunning and needs to be seen.

I do so enjoy seeing new plays. There is no lingering memory of how so and so did it, or why that set designer made those choices. New plays give you back that chance to be awed and wonder-filled, Still did that for me.

From the moment the lights go up the characters are so fully formed, fully engaged in their wine and conversation you almost feel like you came late to the play. Helen and Mark are meeting for the first time after decades of not talking. They had been in love 30 years ago but went their separate ways perhaps reluctantly. Now meeting again, Mark is running for Congress, Helen the accomplished author, is hiding a secret that could ruin his bid, and somehow an avocado flies across the room.  

Helen is played by Tony-nominated, Drama Desk-nominated, actor, and director Jayne Atkinson with joy and should I say perfection, I very much want to. She laughs and swivels in her chair. She is at times forthcoming, at times hiding in full view, and always she manages to let her truth, her fear, lie ever just below the surface. Helen is a breath-taking character and Atkinson gave her that breath and life.

Mark is played by Emmy-nominated, actor, producer, director, philanthropist, and Dorset Theatre festival favorite Tim Daly. His Mark wants much, yet seems to feel like he can’t ask. His smile was warm and his anger biting. The struggles of his mind and heart endeared him to you. Tim Daly gives Mark courage and yet allows him to be uncomfortable, and uncertain, without diminishing him. 

There is something about watching actors who are so accomplished and have worked in so many aspects of show business, that, as the play goes on, it relaxes you. You trust who they are on stage, their story. You know Mark and Helen are living this life on stage in front of a large crowd. Great actors give you that, these actors gave me that.

You can’t praise actors without looking to the director who led them. Adrienne Campbell-Holt, 2022 recipient of the Lucille Lortel Visionary Director Award, took great care in how she brought this world premiere to the stage. Her eye for detail extends to the body language the actors create in their legs and feet as they chat in their swivel chairs. That touch is so nuanced, and often forgotten by directors, that when I see it, I get giddy. The gift of the contents of the bag. There is so much I want to praise in the direction of the play, but I don’t want to give anything away. You need to experience the surprises, the ups and downs, and the myriad of emotions that are present on stage for yourself.

In Still, author Lia Romeo, a Playwriting Fellow at Juilliard, has given us a true conversation – real emotions and lives on display. She gives the audience places to laugh, gasp, and groan in anger, and in fun. It is a play whose characters are living long and complex lives. It is a play that should be seen, often, everywhere.

I am a sucker for a great set, especially one that moves, and Alexander Woodward gave me just that. The wall of wine bottles happily greeted me, each box different and pleasing to the eye. If anyone heard a gasp in Friday’s show when that second set slid into place, I’ll tell you now it was me. The sets at Dorset have been great so far this season. 

How do you create the sound of a busy bar, on a busy night, and still hear the actors? Last night I learned the answer: You hire Hidenori Nakajo as your sound designer. The sound of the bar crowd was a constant background noise in the beginning, neither distracting nor repetitive. Great sound design lets you hear all you are supposed to hear, most often without you realizing it.  

Lighting designer Reza Behat created some great moments. The lighting of the slight haze as they talked and drank wine added to the ambiance. The lighting in the room, the linear lighting tickled me with its perfection. He gave us a night and day in light.

Barbara Bell’s costumes looked like they had lived in the closets’ of the characters.

Still is stunning. It is the kind of play I can’t wait to tell my friends about, so I will simply tell them to go! Go often if you are lucky. 

Still by LIa Romeo, directed by Adrienne Campbell-Holt, runs July 21-August 5 at the Dorset Theatre Festival, 104 Cheney Road in Dorset, VT. CAST: Jayne Atkinson as Helen and Tim Daly as Mark. Set design by Alexander Woodward; lighting design by Reza Behat; sound design by Hidenori Nakajo; costume design by Barbara Bell; casting by Judy Bowman, CSA; Production Stage Manager Rebecca Monroe.

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