By Maren VonNiederhausern
“Hello Seattle, I am a manta ray
Deep beneath the blue waves
I’ll crawl the sandy bottom of Puget Sound
And construct a summer home…”
The words of Owl City set a sleepy, yet urban tone. The stage, set up in a corner and very like a black-box theater, brings to life a newlywed’s apartment, complete with a Nintendo Game-Cube on the bookshelf. It’s clean and cozy, and just intimate enough to make it very easy to place yourself in the shoes of the characters and experience, rather than simply watch, the story.
So begins Standing, Still Standing, a play by Melissa Leilani Larson, local playwright, and directed by Adam Cannon with the Highland Community Theater.
Now, who here has complained about something you have little to no intention of finding a solution to?
It’s okay. Me too. And everyone else.
So has Ben– but he has a medical excuse. Plagued by Chronic Fatigue Syndrome since college, he has inadvertently learned to rely on sympathy and rather dislikes what has become a bad habit and a dependent/codependent relationship. He along with his wife are fighting their way through the “In sickness and in health” side of their marriage.
Our first interaction with Ben (played by Lucas Proctor) is watching him stagger across the apartment and collapse into bed. Later, his wife Grace (Caitlyn Lunceford) walks in, headed to work, and as he wakes the two exchange words that introduce his CFS, his unemployment, her wish to make their family grow, and their utterly romantic relationship (which, refreshingly, remains G-rated throughout the play).
In following scenes, Ben struggles with finding a source of motivation to find a job, often confiding in a fellow CFS victim online who we know as @Azure_Skies_80 (Miranda Maurin.) He admires her, a graduate student, but still can’t seem to push himself hard enough to follow her example. Grace works and works, and her best friend Jen (played tonight by Anne Perkins) begs and begs her to take some time for herself, even buying tickets to a Billy Joel concert for New Year’s Eve. Ben and Grace both struggle with finding their niche in a relationship that is starting to feel stagnant. Looking for work, living in cramped quarters, keeping secrets, and trying to manage symptoms are no help either. And, as Ben learns that no matter how far into the future you plan yourself, it’s eventually going to be time to put those plans into action. And let’s face, it, that’s a whole new ballpark.
Add a generous dose of convincing dream sequences concerning a nonexistent Buick and goat cheese, and whattaya got? Bibbidi-bobbidi-boo: A terrifically sweet, soul-searching, and bewitchingly surreal story.
This production is a brilliant combination of spectacular writing and exquisite casting. Ben and Grace were lovable, relatable, and even when Caitlyn/Grace was swallowing several words, the emotion was clear. My only real complaint about these two was that the overuse of both exasperated hand-to-head motions and sighs of frustration were such that I became a bit self-conscious about my own breathing patterns.
Now, lets talk a bit about the importance of a solid supporting cast. If I had to choose one thing that this company did darn near perfectly, it’s the miscellaneous characters played by a few very flexible talents. Highlights: Emily McClure as the woman with the cheese, Facebook, and Ben’s Mom; Debbie Maurin as a presumably high hippie named Peaches, Twitter, and a real estate saleswoman; Mike Maurin as Gmail, Billy Joel, and Ben’s friend Matt; and Dan Stratton as the new baby, a police officer, and military general.
Intrigued? You should be. You should also go see what the heck I’m talking about because I simply can’t describe in words the absolute genius behind the hilarity. Bravo to Mr. Cannon for bringing to life the more abstract ideas in this script.
Now, on a more serious note, one simply can’t ignore the running theme to Standing, Still Standing. All the above craziness is peppered with an all-too-common ailment: Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Some might, and do, see those suffering like Ben as a schmoozing couch bum and leave it at that. The story, however, especially in the small space and curtain-free set, practically force-feeds the audience a certain amount of empathy for people with CFS. It’s really hard. You and your wife are house hunting and you’ve just got to go home and rest, even if she’s upset because there are still three promising properties in the lineup. You need a job and you know it, but committing to that kind of stress level is seriously overwhelming.
These problems aren’t restricted to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, either. That’s the best part of stories like this: Any single person in the room can relate to the issues, and no person is wrong in doing so. Ben is a character that contains a little bit of everyone. We can all identify with the feeling of inadequacy, or having internal conflicts, or what have you.
By far the production’s greatest weakness was with the technicians. Understandably, the space, which is not actually a theater, is not conducive to Broadway-caliber effects, yet on occasion I caught a glaring whiff of distinct unprofessionalism (namely the smell of fast food… by the sound board? Really?) The design was nearly flawless, especially considering the complete lack of a real booth and backstage/wing area, but the theory did not quite carry over into execution quite the way I think it was supposed to. The makeshift ‘backstage’ area behind a curtained doorframe was brightly lit from behind and never quite closed all the way. A few of the props were cheaply made. One or two of the dream-state costumes crossed the line between amusingly random to just strange. I was, however, consistently impressed with how well the space was used.
Honestly, though, if that’s the only thing I can legitimately shake my finger at, we have on our hands a truly wonderful show. The perfect balance between comedy and raw emotion, a dream-team of supporting roles, and a hero we can all relate to who rises to glory in such a way that he stays real and human? It almost seems too good to be true. And yet it exists in the form of Standing, Still Standing. The intensity of the dialogue provoked both thought and feeling for me. I undoubtedly left the theater with a heaping plate full of food for thought: And, ultimately, this is what makes the show worth seeing. I’m sure I’ll be thinking on these characters that I discovered in myself for a long time, and figuring out what I can do right now to change the circumstances in my own life that don’t seem right to me: because things get done by people who do them.
“Hello Seattle, I am an old lighthouse
Throwing beams of bright lights
Red in the morning, blue in the evening sun
Taking heed from everyone”
Standing, Still Standing runs through Saturday at the Highland Community Center at 7:30pm. Tickets $8