BWW Reviews: TIME STANDS STILL in Stratford
In Donald Margulies' play, Time Stands Still, photographer Sarah Goodwin (Janet Rathert) comes home from a German hospital after being hit by a roadside bomb in Iraq. Her domestic partner, James Dodd (David Victor), a former economics major at Stanford, is suffering from the emotional wounds of being a successful and prolific war correspondent. Sarah is antsy and determined to get her back to work faster than her doctors predicted. James is now writing about horror movies rather than real life horrors. His version of The Great Escape evolves even more as Sarah's photo editor, Richard Ehrlich (Pat Leo) visits with his much younger girlfriend, Mandy Bloom (Alisson Wood). Sarah and Mandy couldn't be more different in their personalities or their professions. No-nonsense Sarah is addicted to her dangerous job. Sweet, caring, fun and optimistic Mandy is an event planner, who visits Sarah's strictly functionally furnished Williamsburg loft with two mylar balloons. Initially, Sarah is shocked at Richard's choice of a girlfriend, whom she refers to as "embryonic." Richard defends his choice, and James comes to see his perspective.
During the course of the play, there are rich, thought-provoking discussions about work, life and moral decisions. "I live off the suffering of strangers," says Sarah. "I built a career on the sorrows of people I don't know." Mandy is horrified that Sarah could just keep clicking away instead of stopping to try to help war victims. Sarah defends her job as being a witness to truths that the world would not otherwise know about. "We're here to record life, not fix it," she says. And, although sometimes she questions whether she is "a ghoul with a camera," she is more disturbed that her partner is now writing material that she considers trivial.
Sarah, James and Richard were once a formidable professional trio, and it seems that Mandy is just an airhead, comic relief, who doesn't understand the incongruity of planning a festivity among the Egyptian sarcophagi in the Temple of Dendur in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. As the play progresses, the trio shifts, with Sarah as the outsider. For Sarah, healing from her injuries means going back to taking pictures of people who are living in misery every day. For James, it means lightening up, getting married, even having a child because he sees that Richard is happy with Mandy, and what's wrong with that, anyway?
I never saw the show in New York, but I can't imagine that Tom Holehan's sensitive and accurate direction could have been topped, or that the performers could have been better cast. Rathert is credible as an extreme photojournalist who finds that the emotional distance needed for her job is her protection from the real war zones of domestic life, while she was growing up and now. Time stands still during the second that she looks through the lens of her camera and finds the story amid chaos. Victor is thoroughly believable as a man who is torn between the guilt of not being able to stay with Sarah while she was in a coma and trying to build a life on happiness instead of global despair. Leo brings dignity to Richard, who has reconciled the seriousness and sadness he sees as a photo editor and the joy he is determined to have in mid-life. Wood conveys the purity and underappreciated strength and maturity of her character. Al Kulcsar captured Sarah's straightforward view of life with set design of two brick walls surrounding the doorways and furniture that is mostly sparse and functional. The brass headboard is the closest thing to decoration, and that is overshadowed by three huge war photos.
Donald Margulies' Time Stands Still is an extraordinary play. Every line carries its weight in just 90 minutes, and there is a lot to carry when it comes to relationships that have been strained by wars, both literal and figurative. Even if you have seen this before, it's worth seeing again. Time Stands Still plays at Square One Theatre Company weekends through March 15. 2422 Main Street, Stratford. 203-375-8878. www.squareonetheatre.com