Still in the Game

STILL IN THE GAME

Pasatiempo - - NEWS - Jen­nifer Levin

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.”

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