TIME STANDS STILL: Lives Out of Focus and Frozen by War
Written by Donald Margulies; directed by Scott Edmiston; scenic design, Janie E. Howland; costume design, Elisabetta Polito; lighting design, Karen Perlow; sound design, Dewey Dellay; production stage manager, Nerys Powell; assistant stage manager, Cat Dunham Meilus
Now through March 17, Lyric Stage Company, 140 Clarendon Street, Boston. Tickets $25-$56, seniors $5 off regular price, student rush $10. Available by calling 617-585-5678 or online at www.lyricstage.com.
Time Stands Still, Donald Margulies' 2010 Tony Award nominated play making its Boston premiere at the Lyric Stage Company now through March 17, is an interesting but not completely satisfying drama about a mid-life couple reassessing their relationship and high-risk careers after he (Jamie, a foreign correspondent) and she (Sarah, a photojournalist) become victims themselves of the Iraq War they have been covering for many years. When Jamie suffers post traumatic stress after witnessing a series of horrific deaths and Sarah is almost killed in a roadside bombing, the two hunker down in their Williamsburg, Brooklyn loft to heal their wounds and map out a new future.
The trouble is Jamie (Barlow Adamson) now wants marriage, children, and a writing career far removed from the atrocities of war. Sarah (Laura Latreille) can't turn her back on the Middle East quite that easily. Like a caged animal hungry to return to the chase, she chafes at Jamie's overprotective attention and works ferociously to rehabilitate her mangled leg. Ill-suited to domesticity – and obviously more comfortable dealing with people once removed through a camera lens – she paces, pontificates, and pounces anytime she feels cornered or confined.
For Sarah, the camera is both a cause and a crutch. With it she can expose to the world the forgotten tragedies that most people choose to dismiss or ignore. But she can also hide behind it, coolly chronicling life and death with an emotional detachment that enables her to take shot after time-freezing shot even as her subjects lie dying, crying to her for help. When Mandy (Erica Spyres), the conventional but kind-hearted young girlfriend of Sarah's world-weary photo editor Richard (Jeremiah Kissel), is outraged by Sarah's apparent lack of compassion, Sarah replies pragmatically, "The camera is there to record life, not change it. I'm there to take pictures."
In Sarah Margulies has sketched the outline of a fascinating character, a composite of daring female photojournalists who in their ground-breaking careers put a human face to world-changing historical events. Unfortunately, Margulies falls short of making his heroine truly absorbing by failing to flesh out the deeper psychological motivations that drive her to seek the adrenalin-charged chaos of the war zone in favor of lasting intimate relationships. A dysfunctional family background is given a cursory mention, but we are left to wonder how much of her intense attraction to the battle field is a calling, a death wish, or a desperate escape from personal demons made less haunting in the face of anguish much greater than her own.
Jamie, too, is rather thinly drawn, an affable bloke who inexplicably stumbled into journalism and war correspondence after graduating from business school. He's clearly a kindred spirit of Sarah's in terms of purpose and political beliefs, but what has brought and kept them together for almost nine years is a bit of a mystery. Also given short shrift is the inner turmoil that Jamie experiences in relation to his breakdown and to his conflicting feelings toward Sarah. Just when Margulies gets close to unleashing the full effects of the collateral damage that has doomed Jamie and Sarah as a couple, he backs off, choosing instead to have his characters spew easy rhetoric instead of honest emotion.