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Theatre Review by Marc Miller - April 18, 2024

Tim Daly and Jayne Atkinson
Photo by Joey Moro
With Brooklyn Laundry having recently ended its merry run at Manhattan Theatre Club, New York now has a new, not-dissimilar mini-romance to celebrate. Lia Romeo's Still, from Colt Coeur at DR2, shares many traits with the John Patrick Shanley comedy-drama. Both run about an hour and a quarter. Both tread confidently in the realms of romcom and drama, often in the same breath. Both throw together a man and a woman who may or may not be meant for each other, but we're sympathetic to both parties and rooting for them to work their conflicts out. And I pretty much loved both.

One difference: Still has a cast of only two, which, luckily for us, comprises Tim Daly and Jayne Atkinson. We meet them in a bar, on Alexander Woodward's cozy set, and for the first 20 minutes we're in fairly standard romcom territory, albeit with a pair more seasoned than those usually populating romcoms. Mark (Daly) and Helen (Atkinson) are in their 60s, both quite successful in their careers, he a lawyer and she a novelist who made at least a fleeting appearance on the Times bestseller list. They were a couple three decades or so ago, and a visit from the out-of-town Mark has spurred what displays all the characteristics of being a date.

It's light going for a while. Mark: "I still have that coat." Helen: "Not the same one." "It is, it's been patched a few times." "Oh, well, haven't we all." Both tend not to finish their sentences, leaving it to us to complete the thought, which usually isn't difficult; whenever either gets to the phrase "broke up," as in Mark's "You were seeing someone for a while after we...", they just trail off. Other painful subjects, and they do arrive, are sometimes met with similar avoidance, sometimes with disarming candor.

These mostly arrive post-coitally, which isn't that much of a spoiler. Romeo convincingly escorts us from that hotel bar to Mark's room upstairs, where he's trying to rekindle their old flame and she's resistant–for several good reasons, which won't entirely be revealed here. But I will say that Still unexpectedly turns into, of all things, a political debate, and has something of an antique predecessor in Biography, a hit S.N. Behrman play from the 1932-33 season. More of an out-and-out comedy than Still, it does share some striking traits with Romeo's play. Biography concerns a Bohemian free spirit, an artist contemplating completing her memoir, which unnerves a former beau who's running for the Senate and doesn't want their old affair out in the open. Something like that conflict emerges here, and it inspires some of Romeo's most pointed dialogue: "Liberals are dreamers, it's all about a 'better world'"; "So you don't want a better world?"

Will these two people, both comfortable, privileged white folk of a certain age, but on separate sides of a growing gap, be able to bridge it? That's kept satisfyingly ambiguous as Romeo, and Adrienne Campbell-Holt's fluid direction, nimbly navigate Mark and Helen through an ever-evolving range of emotions: ecstatic, furious, contemplative, wistful, nostalgic, sorrowful. And they have just the actors to do it. Tim Daly, fully recuperated from that godawful Night of the Iguana a few months ago, not only offers an exemplary lesson in aging gracefully–can Coastal Disturbances really be 38 years ago?–but catches Mark's many moods and accentuates them with rich body language: leaning forward to press a point, wiping his glasses to stall for time. And Jayne Atkinson, well, Jayne Atkinson. How many times, The Rainmaker and Blithe Spirit and on and on, have we admired the detail and specificity she invests in a character? There's a moment when Mark confesses he came to Baltimore not on business, but just to see Helen, and watch how Atkinson reacts as Helen's emotions, and ours, well up. That's acting, class.

There's also good work from sound designer Hidenori Nakajo, who provides muted cocktail music for the bar, traffic and other muffled outside noises for the next scene–heck, in this environment, even the sound of a purse zipping up is eloquent–and from lighting designer Reza Behjat. Romeo says in her program note that Still "comes from a very personal place," and we sense the authenticity of her vision of Mark and Helen's ambivalence as they warily circle each other, finding things to love in one another, and things to despise.

A few moments–Mark reeling out his political beliefs from instant memory, his total recall of a difficult night the previous year–feel a bit artificial, and a tentatively upbeat ending may be slightly unearned, even if it had me weeping a little. But given Still's generosity of spirit, not to mention some up-to-the-minute political palaver and two master actors at the top of their game, it's a fine night out.

Through May 18, 2024
Colt Coeur
DR2 Theatre, 105 East 15th Street
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