The small space of the BlackBox at New Repertory Theatre is rendered smaller and more intimate by the apparently haphazard nature of the staging. Unfinished wooden panels line all four walls, interrupted only by a half-completed window on stage left.
Furnished with two stools, a mat with a pillow, and a pair of bright crutches leaning upon a piano in the corner, the space resembles a half-built house—perhaps it’s the house of Anita Hollander, the playwright, composer, and sole performer, who spends one hour in front of an audience that is never farther than arm’s length.
Still Standing is Hollander’s musical life story, from the diagnosis of cancer in her left leg to the very moment of her performance. She strides onstage at the top of show, gives the audience a knowing smirk—the first of many that she will share throughout the night—and reaches up her skirt to deftly unstrap her prosthetic left leg from her hip.
Her performance is punctuated with similarly humorous and unexpected moments, such as when she drapes her prosthetic over her left shoulder companionably. To borrow Hollander’s own word, she has a lot of “chutzpah.”
A theatre student at Carnegie Mellon when she was first diagnosed, Hollander is a seasoned performer and storyteller. Pre-recorded voices and accompaniment float from speakers throughout the show, but her expressive face and strong voice dominate the stage.
Hollander’s chameleon-like acting chops are especially showcased when she slips into the roles of two important characters in her journey: her older sister pressing her to find enjoyment in life during chemotherapy, performed during “Lazy Day,” and her young daughter musing on the question of her mother’s unique appearance in “Mommy is a Mermaid.”
Hollander handles the painful elements of her story with a delicate, embodied remembering.
Following a matter-of-fact explanation of what phantom pains are, she sits on the mat and pillow placed up-center stage to revisit nights she spends in bed thinking over her choice to save her life and amputate her leg during “The Pain/The Choice.” During the piece, one light slowly creeps along the back wall, symbolizing dawn coming to her sleepless vigil.
Hollander displays an impressive range of emotion throughout the course of the night, from the tenderness of “I Want To Be There” to the defiance of “Difficult Woman Blues.” Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the performance is Hollander’s energetic physicality.
With her prosthetic, she dances nimbly across stage in an unmistakably catchy ode to physical therapy. Without it, she perches on the stool or shuffles easily around it with a hand for balance.
In a triumphant moment of immediacy, Hollander stands joyfully tall on one foot, encouraging the audience to utilize her “tools for survival” with an earnestness that cannot be ignored.
Featured Image courtesy of New Repertory Theatre