The setting of Still Life is in present time, but the focus of the play is on the Viet Nam War era. Three characters address their experience in this time era. Their experience is told in a documentary style. The characters are behind a long table with pictures scattered everywhere, ashtrays, and water glasses. They address the audience instead of a single being when being interviewed. The interviewer does not include the questions being asked in the play, which leaves room for run on confusion when reading the play and would probably be easier to follow while in production. And it is believed that the play is suppose to be as simple as possible.
It is suppose to be as simple as possible because of the given setting. A long table with only a few real props needed, the slide projector and pictures. There aren t any additional props beside the water and the ashtrays. There are no flashback scenes where the entire setting is changed. It is all in story told format. In a way that is good because it leaves room for the audience to judge on who is the real whacked character of all. Because so much attention is needed on the character s response the author does not use a lot of props or any scenery changes. And she keeps the time setting on a single day period to keep the probable idea of momentum going.
The water and the ashtrays only give a sense of the interview being combined with all three characters present. And in the script when read the image is given that all three characters are being interviewed all in the same room at the same time. This is total confusion. When reading, one gets caught on one character and focuses on that character. So the reader misses out on what the other characters have to say. Or they would have to stop and reread to find out what just happened. There is a possibility that the author interviewed the characters at different times, and decided to put all the parts together, as though they were taking turns answering the questions sentence by sentence. It is thought so because when Cheryl explains why she is so scared of Mark, Nadine doesn t have a real reaction to it. I m scared knowing that I have to keep my mouth shut…I ve got nothing else to do…If I ever told him I was scared for my life, he d freak out. If I ever said anything like that, how would he react? Would he get angry? What do you think?…I got too much to lose…I don t wanna be alone for the rest of my life with two kids. And Nadine s reaction; I ve always understood how people could hurt each other with weapons. If you ve been hurt to the quick, and a weapon s around, WHAP. I signed my divorce papers because last time he came over, I knew if there d been a gun around, I d ve killed him. (Act I Scene 8) It doesn t make any sense; the characters do not have any reaction to the other, which only leaves room to speculate that the interviews were done separately. It does add a twist to the documentary style, yet it makes sense if put in a play production. It s not all too amusing just repeating what somebody replies to. But when in the production, there would probably be light focuses on each character as they had something to say, and when both are talking, both characters would be lit. Like in Act I Scene 5 where Nadine and Cheryl. Nadine and Cheryl, for the first real evident time they seem to have a connection. They both realize that their kids are important, and that s where they probably can fix their mistakes that they made, by not letting their kids make the mistakes they made.
The choices of characters are equally well chosen. There is a young couple who has not really had time to think things through as a couple. Then there is an older lady who has supposedly been through it all and is much more educated on life than the younger two. There is so much strife in each of their lives it leaves impressions that they have no time to communicate or have a problem communicating. Mark, 28, has a huge obsession with the war and the past. But most of it is focused on the war. His past is told through his unique collections of pictures with a slide projector, a piece of technology that is used to emphasize the time period being discussed. The audience really does not see or hear of his life before the war except for the fact that his parents sent him, and now they regret it. Cheryl, also 28, can t remember the past too well, yet she focuses only on the future. And Nadine notices her past and attempts to change the present for a better future. To add to the monologues each character has, there is spice added into it. It is suggested that each monologue be produced like a musical jazz rift, with excitement, raise in tone or pitch, and then brought back down to complete the monologue. Even better explained as an improvisation, where the character takes off into their own world.
The effectiveness of the play would be much more amusing or interesting if it were in a production. But when reading, focus can be scattered throughout the script. There are no notes on whether to use lighting upon the stage in the script, which leaves the readers to conclusion that the play can possibly be effective in the dark, with just focus on the projector, or with spotlights on each character. When reading the focus is taken away from an over all view of the play, and focused onto one character. Whether or not that was the initial plan of Emily Mann, author of Still Life, confusion is brought about when focused on one character intermingled with others. Possibly if the script was separated at each characters line, comprehension would have been easier and the play would have been easier to focus on the topic of the Viet Nam War era, with the protests, sex, drugs, and the after life of the Vets.