Still: Floating rather than diving

The patriarchy has reassembled itself after the onslaught of #MeToo, but its barricade has been pushed back and its corner of the world is a little smaller.

Another push is needed, and another, and another, until the barricades are dismantled and the protection of gendered power is consigned to history, along with racism, xenophobia, religious intolerance, classism, the whole bangshoot of bigotry.

Well, we can dream. Because if we don’t, we may as well give up on the whole project of being human. And dreaming allows us to gain ground, however incrementally, moving toward a point where we no longer have to expend enormous amounts of energy on unneccessary battles but can rather direct it toward nurturing each other and the planet we share.

Theater is part of the dream project, simultaneously pushing the boundaries of our humanity and stepping into the new won freedoms.

Still does the latter. It’s not the cutting edge. It might have been 20 years ago. Today it’s a straight-up play inhabiting the space that’s been won, and using it to examine the devastating effect of rape, and not only on the survivor. The ripples caused by the act of intimate violence can drown siblings, parents, friends, lovers. Those close to the survivor and the perpetrator.

This may make Still appear larger than it is. It is a three-hander and the story is restricted to the survivor, the young man who loves her, and the young woman who was the rapist’s girlfriend.

Besides a couple of time jumps, the narrative is essentially linear and driven by dialogue between Aaron and Julia, who initially sneer and hiss at one another and then realise they might have something going on – the standard rom-com plot, although this is not a rom-com. It’s more of a thriller with a rom-com subplot minus the com, which makes it complex enough to keep us interested. But there were a number of things that kept me from shifting to being engaged.

There was little to no variance in the acting. It’s all on one level, played on a continual channel of needy anxiety. There’s the impression the characters are more concerned with their own well-being than that of the survivor, Chloe, who spends most of the play in a tank filled with an inch of water. A tank that was vastly underlit and underutilised. There’s the occassional movement from her, one or two splashes at points of dialogue, and she sits up and says something now and again, but much more could have been done to create dramatic tension, to make her more present. She is, after all, the thread that binds the story together. Instead she’s largely relegated to a dark, damp corner sans the symbolic value the position offers.

Making a call on the quality of the acting is difficult, as what actors do is often largely reliant on what direction they are given. Without being privy to their notes, it is not possible to know whether they are being constrained or failing to take advantage of liberty. The intimacy indicated in the script was lacking on stage. The quiet moments were filled with the words and not given the space to breathe, to draw us in. Of course there’s sympathy for Chloe because we try and imagine what she went through, but she’s too much in the dark to engage us.

Megan Oberholzer as Julie has spark though. Although the script does not explore her character of spoilt popular girl in any depth, she knows how to use body language. At times the tension of the secret she keeps is palpable, and there’s a conversation with Aaron in which her eyes communicate all the things unsaid.

There is a solid foundation to Still, and the audience – the first full house I’ve seen so far at fest – rose up to give it a standing ovation. But I felt it sells itself short, doesn’t fully explore the nuances and tensions between the characters, and fails to use the space, props (one big prop) and lights to full effect.

In a space won through radical commitment, through tears, sweat, and yes, blood, it makes conservative choices, plays it safe rather than taking the risks that could see it solidify the gains that have enabled it.

Still is written and directed by Olivia Fischer, performed by Ashley de Lange, Brett Ilsley, and Megan Oberholzer.

It plays in the Rehearsal Room until Saturday (6 July). Click here for details.

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