“Surreal and Trashy” – In Conversation with Ali Joy Richardson, director of STILL by Jen Silverman
by Bailey Green
“I have read other plays on the subject of a stillborn child…but none with language both surreal and trashy, none as funny, and none as moving.” – Marsha Norman (‘night, Mother)
Ali discovered STILL while searching through the Toronto Reference Library for a play to direct. She knew she wanted to direct a piece written in the last ten years and that preferably the play would be by a female playwright. While scanning through titles on the shelves, she saw the cover of STILL — the shadow of a baby in a stairwell. She read the character list: Morgan, a professor, Dolores, a sometimes dominatrix, Elena, a midwife and Constantinople, a giant dead baby. “I remember being uncomfortable because I kept laughing out loud in the library and then crying in public,” Ali remembers. “I knew I had to pick this script.”
Ali reached out to Annemieke Wade, Alicia Richardson, Julie Tepperman and Christopher Allen. Annemieke Wade’s reply: “I’m in and I’m pregnant,” Ali says. “So I said take a couple weeks, read the script and then she [Annemieke] reached out again and she was in. I was so, so glad.” Annemieke came on board to play Morgan, the professor who we find stuck in the womb of her own basement, wearing the clothes she wore when she delivered her stillborn child.
We find the giant dead baby, Constantinople, hitchhiking after escaping from the morgue. Constantinople is in search of his mother. “Christopher Allen’s physicality is so perfect, he is so tall and playful,” Ali says. “And the minute he speaks in the shows or moves it’s just bubbles of joy […] I asked him if he had any questions or worries about being a manifestation of a stillborn baby on stage and he said, ‘hm, nope.’ So he’s been so open to everything.”
Alicia Richardson, who plays Dolores, said during table work that there are no heroes in the play. “No one fixes it,” says Ali. But the characters bring the audience into their world and deal with the subject matter with honesty, humour and candor. “Jen [Silverman] never lets you sit for too long. There’s permission to laugh,” Ali says. Dolores, the play’s self-made dominatrix, is kinky, funny, queer and unafraid to reinvent herself. Elena, played by Julie Tepperman, is the midwife who goes between Morgan and Dolores. It is through their dialogue we discover that Elena is under investigation for her practice. The stories intertwine and jump from basement to dilapidated hotel room.
For Ali, one of the greatest joys in directing this piece has been the opportunity to dig into fresh, challenging, unique female characters without the need to reinterpret due to dated or insufficient text. “The female characters are written beautifully and the relationships between women are really high stakes and complicated,” Ali says. “So to not have to fight against writing is so exciting.”
Note: STILL was inspired by a memoir called Ghostbelly, written by writer and professor Lisa Heineman in Iowa. Lisa was 46 when she gave birth to her stillborn son at home with a midwife. She wrote a brilliantly honest and heartbreaking memoir about her experience of grief and healing. If you’d like to read more about the collaboration behind STILL, please visit: http://howlround.com/authors/jen-silverman-elizabeth-heineman
Directed by Ali Joy Richardson, featuring Julie Tepperman, Annemieke Wade, Alicia Richardson & Christopher Allen
STILL is the story of a professor, her midwife, a dominatrix, and a baby who never got to be. Morgan’s son was born dead, Dolores is pregnant with a child she doesn’t want, and failed midwife Elena seeks either redemption or a career change. All three women confront their fears, desires, and each other, while Morgan’s baby is running out of time to find her.
Unit 102 (376 Dufferin Street)
March 4 – 13, 2016
More details: http://www.binoculartheatre.com/still