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'Birdman' Screenwriter's Play About Love And Death Lands at Rogue Machine

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Before Alexander Dinelaris won an Oscar and a Golden Globe as part of the screenwriting team on Birdman a few years ago, his play Still Life opened off-Broadway in 2009. Now kicking off its 2017 season, L.A.'s vital 99-seat Rogue Machine Theatre company has brought Dinelaris' death-obsessed, sometimes funny love story to Los Angeles for its West Coast premiere.

Carrie Ann (Laurie Okin) is a provocative fine art photographer with a show about to open, although she has been unable to get herself to take a picture for several months. Jeff (Lea Coco) is a commercial "trend analyst" who creates advertising campaigns for corporate clients (in the inspired professional manner of a contemporary Don Draper). The two meet, of course, and instantly hit it off, though it takes them a few scenes after that to cement their relationship.

Both of Still Life's sympathetic protagonists (and it's never quite clear what a soulful guy like Jeff is doing in a job like that) are mentored in their careers by considerably more cynical professional supervisors. Jeff's boss, Terry (Jonathan Bray), is an over-the-top cad towards the women he tries to take advantage of, as well as the men he considers too weak to bother not crushing. Meanwhile, gallerist Joanne (Susan Wilder)—Carrie Ann's mentor— has something of the attitude and bearing (and definitely the look) of Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada..

Three different deaths, recent or imminent, infect these characters' perspectives and force them to contemplate the imperative of making the most of the opportunities they have while there's, well, still life to be lived. Which is very true, of course, though the proposition is laid out a bit too obviously to strike us as much more than a truism.

Thankfully, a very strong cast keeps the play's few dozen scenes lively and engaging. Bray's Terry is all Freudian id, maximally callous in his overconfident sense of personal supremacy, whom we can only hope to see humbled. There is refreshingly little vulnerability about Okin's Carrie Ann, whose strength allows her to defy even her own artistic gifts in tribute to a deeper emotional compulsion. Coco winningly infuses the more thinly drawn role of Jeff with dignity, good humor and a counter-intuitive (but very successful) lightness. Alexandra Sellquist and Jennifer Sorenson both shine in multiple roles.

Director Michael Peretzian maintains the charismatic, just slightly sophisticated Manhattan flavor of much of Dinelaris's action and dialogue. Tom Buderwitz's set is, uncharacteristically, a bit too understated, evoking the sterility of a hospital corridor and little of the appeal of these characters' surroundings.

Rogue Machine Theatre's production of Still Life plays Saturday and Monday evenings at 8:30 and Sunday afternoons at 3 through April 17 at the MET Theatre space in East Hollywood. An added 8:30 performance on Thursday, March 23, will be followed by a discussion with the playwright. Full-price tickets are $43.99 online, and $39.99 at the door. Discount tickets are available for some performances at $25.25 on Goldstar, and $34 and $24 on lastagetix.