Emily Mann's play, "Still Life," is hardly still. Arena Stage's production in a brand- new theater fairly snaps, crackles and pops with electricity.
The Scene Shop, a Spartan space over the Old Vat Room, is getting a classy launching from Charles Janasz, Christina Moore and Halo Wines, all members of Arena's resident acting company. Their portrayals of three American survivors of the war-torn, drug- crazed '60s are collective and individual tours de force.
Janasz plays Mark, an ex-Marine still battling Vietnam memories that have pummeled him to the ground.
"I've done terrible things," he mutters -- and indeed, as it happens, he has.
Wines is Nadine, a middle-aged mother of three who lately has come to feminism and an affair with Mark. "I think he's gonna make it," Nadine tells the audience. "I wonder how you perceive him?"
And the diminutive Moore -- interposed between them on stage -- is Mark's wife Cheryl, who most of all is fighting to forget.
"I'm not good with the past," she says, her face twisting into a tortured grin. "Mark, he remembers."
At a table in front of a plain white screen -- on which Mark projects slides of war -- the three sit chain-smoking and explaining themselves to the audience. Their narratives clash, intersect, fly apart and explode -- with the result less a play than a highly charged fugue. Throughout there is a sense of occasion, as if these people have really gathered together to tell us about their lives.
In the end, you almost forget the strangeness of the conceit, as by now the characters have made themselves into sympathetic human beings.
One of Mann's accomplishments -- besides dealing provocatively and at times movingly with such disparate issues as Catholicism, murder and sexual perversion -- is giving "Still Life" the breadth and texture of music.
She has a true ear for the cadences of speech, and a sure sense of when to bring the timpani in. STILL LIFE -- At The Scene Shop through June 19.