Still in the Game
STILL IN THE GAME
Dawn’s mother has been dead almost a year. Since then she has been taking care of her father, stuffing his freezer with casseroles and bringing her kids over to visit, worried about his loneliness and isolation. And then one day he tells her that he has been dating, and now a woman is moving into the house he shared with his late wife. Dawn, devastated, will not hear of it. It is too soon. Her mother’s spirit is still too present. Still in the Game, by Robert F. Benjamin, is not Dawn’s story — it is her father, David’s, a widower trying to find his way after a 40-year marriage. The women in his life have plenty of ideas about how he should live — they always have. In order to find his own happiness, he must endure his daughter’s bitter grief while learning how to seek and accept new affection after his wife’s long decline. When he encounters his own mortality, he does not want to capitulate to what other people think will be best. Still in the Game, directed by Sheryl Bailey, opens Thursday, Aug. 10, at Teatro Paraguas Studios, in collaboration with Sage Right Productions.
Benjamin is retired from a career as a research physicist at Los Alamos National Laboratories. He has been working with Bailey, who in her day job manages real property leasing at LANL, and has worked as a staff producer at the Mark Taper Forum and as associate managing artistic director at the Western Stage Theater Company, on drafts of his plays for several years. He has in the past written one-act plays; Still in the Game was originally four separate plays. “But the characters came to me and said they were part of the same play, so by the magical process through which playwrights and characters communicate, they convinced me it was a full-length play,” he said. Two of Benjamin’s previous plays about aging, Salt and Pepper and Not Quite Right, were produced at Teatro Paraguas in 2013 and 2015, respectively.
Bailey was attracted to directing Still in the Game, which is still undergoing revision, because of its unusual point of view. “As a society, we forget that when someone is dying, it’s about them — not about everybody else around them,” she said. “This script allows me to bring that idea out. David gets to be self-indulgent.”
David (played by Jim McGiffin) is the only man in Still in the Game, a story so full of women that some of them, though integral to the plot, never appear on stage. Dawn ( Juliet Salazar), David’s angry daughter, decides to keep her kids away from their grandfather as punishment for him taking up with someone new — the unseen Samantha. Michelle (Roxanne Tapia), Dawn’s cousin, runs a boutique where she sells something called “emotional care-ware.” Benjamin
As a society, we forget that when someone is dying, it’s about them — not about everybody else around them. This script allows me to bring that idea out. — director Sheryl Bailey
said that though some women who have seen and reacted to workshop iterations of the play disagree with him, he thinks women often shop for clothes as a psychological salve — then confessed that he has no idea what emotional care-ware would actually look like.
“Envision a cross between Chico’s and Uli’s,” Bailey said. “What women of a certain age — women my age — in Santa Fe might wear if they were once hippies but don’t want to look like old hippies. My idea of emotional care-ware is that Michelle has created this line in her boutique that speaks to women. It’s not necessarily just because of the clothes but because Michelle indulges them.”
Michelle’s best customer is Ruby (Marguerite Scott), a widow a few years younger than David, whom she meets at a speed-dating event after David’s relationship with Samantha goes south. They are an unlikely match and at first have trouble talking to each other, with David laying on the charm but running up against Ruby’s no-nonsense attitude. To Dawn’s dismay, they are soon traveling together and functioning much like a committed couple. It remains to be seen if this is what David wants or needs.
The story’s final section sees David charming an unseen dying woman, plying her with flowers and chocolate and upsetting her daughter, Paula (Alix Hudson), who just wants her mother to have distractionless peace while she focuses on the path ahead. Paula and her mother meditate together during her visits to the hospice center, which Paula believes is healthy for her mother — but Bailey said Paula’s mother uses as an excuse to talk less about Paula’s thoughts about the end of her life.
“I try to make the younger characters sympathetic, but there are different perspectives, and I tend to write from the older person’s perspective,” Benjamin said. His experience with the play’s subject matter is that of a caregiver. His wife has been living with an incurable form of cancer for six years, and though she is not in danger of dying any time soon, it is a long and difficult road. “My wife is nothing like Ruby,” he added, “and our daughter isn’t like Dawn.” He based those characters on women he knows, as well as on the stories of a friend, a widower whose three daughters turned on him when they found out he had begun dating again. “I think Dawn and her father have always had a close, loving relationship, or he wouldn’t be able to sit there and let her say the things she does about him. She has guilt for not taking care of her mother or spending enough time with her when she was dying, and she’s stuck in her grieving. It’s exacerbated by having another woman come in. Now she’s not only grieving but violated, because in her head, it’s mom and dad together. If mom isn’t there, at least her spirit is there.”
“Dawn is needy, and she’s out of control over her dad,” Bailey said. “She wants to run his life, but only in the direction that she wants it to go, not in the direction that he wants it to go. I think David has been dealing with hysteria from his wife and daughter his whole life. That’s where some of his calmness with Dawn comes from. The mother is not in the play, so I had to find the mother in the daughter. I think David probably chuckles at Dawn under his breath a lot, and he’s going to do what he wants to do. David just doesn’t want the drama, even before he finds out he’s sick.”