HIGHLAND — When life passes Ben by, he doesn’t seem to mind. He is not a shiftless loser; rather, he has Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. This disease makes him frequently tired, and as a result he has dropped out of school and is jobless.
Lucas Proctor (as Ben Arden) and Caitlyn Lunceford (as Grace Arden) create a realistic couple who are just past the newlywed stage. Both show a familiarity as if they had spent a few years together, but there is still a spark of sweetness and passion in their interactions. Proctor made Ben a lovable teddy bear of a man who was paralyzed by the uncertainty caused by his disease. He avoided an Oscar Madison-type slobbishness and instead showed how Ben allowed himself to give himself over to his disease.
Lunceford also avoided the easy route (which would have meant portraying a long-suffering wife or a nag) by showing Grace’s love for Ben in every scene. Lunceford never had me doubting that Grace was trying to help Ben, even when he felt like she was asking the impossible. In every scene Lunceford executed this lead role exceptionally well, and her performance is more than strong enough for the show to rely on.
Yet, Proctor and Lunceford’s best scenes are when Ben and Grace are arguing. In these scenes Proctor and Lunceford show that each one’s character clearly knows which buttons to push in order to upset their spouse and ensure that they are heard. The arguments were convincing, and the raw emotion that the two created made watching this married couple slightly uncomfortable and almost voyeuristic.
The supporting cast has a few gems in it as well, especially Debbie Maurin as Peaches (a New Age healer who even Deepak Chopra would say was “out there”) and the realtor (a woman with boundless enthusiasm for a run-down house, including its shag carpet and wood burning stove). She never ceased to mine her scenes for humor, and she brought a touch of zaniness to some of her characters, which ensured that Ben and Grace seemed more grounded in reality. Nicole Allen as Jen, Grace’s friend and coworker, was excellent at flushing out the tension in Grace’s life and giving her advice that propelled the plot forward. Allen made Jen believable as someone who cared about Grace (by listening to her problems, inviting her to a concert, etc.) yet had the gumption to tell Grace what she didn’t want to hear—even if it meant raising the specter of divorce. Finally, Mike Maurin brightened the stage each time he entered, and all of his characters were enjoyable, whether it was as a music celebrity (Billy Joel), Ben’s out of town friend, or Gmail.(!)
Director Adam Cannon handled the story script with the utmost care. Most important was the surreal feel that Cannon gave to the scenes that show Ben’s dreams. Cannon ensured that the sheer bizarreness of the dreams was distinctly different from the reality of Ben’s everyday life. I also appreciated how Cannon focused on the stagnant nature of Ben and Grace’s relationship, which meant the central conflict of the script was believable and touching. On the other hand, some of the characters wandered around the stage in important scenes (such as Grace’s first office scene or in the most of the apartment scenes), which made the characters seem weaker than necessary and also reduced the focus that of the scenes.
In her script for Standing, Still Standing Melissa Leilani Larson‘s is fond of mixing. She mixes dreams and reality, comedy and domestic drama, love and anger—and she always does it with a careful adroitness. The result is a delightful story that isn’t about Chronic Fatigue Syndrome at all, but rather the excuses that many people make for a lack of growth in their lives. I found it difficult to watch Standing, Still Standing without thinking about people in my life who could stand in for Grace or Ben because Larson wrote the two main characters in such an accessible manner.
Despite all the good in the show, it does have its rough edges. There is no hiding that it is an arts council production, and the limitations of the budget show in some of the technical elements, especially the lights (uncredited) and set (designed by Adam Cannon). On opening night the cast was also a little slow saying some of their lines in the opening scenes, but this was less problematic as the evening progressed.
Overall, though Standing, Still Standing is still worth seeing. It’s hard to find thought-provoking, genuinely enjoyable live entertainment this time of year in Utah County. Highland City Arts Council has filled that void, but only for this week. With the closing performance scheduled for Saturday, readers should be a little less like Ben by getting up, and making their way to Highland to catch this show.