BWW Reviews: Kim Bretton Brings Stunningly Acted TIME STANDS STILL To The Stage in Nashville Premiere

BWW-Reviews-Kim-Bretton-Brings-Stunningly-Acted-TIME-STANDS-STILL-To-The-Stage-in-Nashville-Premiere-20010101

Kim Bretton, easily one of the best actors to be found anywhere, makes an auspicious Nashville debut as a director-that places her firmly among the upper echelons of that particular field of endeavor-with her thoughtful and intriguing mounting of Donald Margulies' Time Stands Still for Actors Bridge Ensemble.

Margulies' script serves up a sharp, witty and no-holds-barred consideration of the challenges of life in the 21st Century as he tells the story of Sarah Goodwin, a battle-weary and IED-scarred photojournalist, who returns to her New York apartment in the aftermath of an explosion that has left her face temporarily disfigured and her heart irrevocably broken.  It's not for nothing that Margulies' play was acclaimed by critics and audiences alike during its New York run (and has made it a popular choice among regional theater companies-in fact, Tennessee Rep will stage Time Stands Still next season): He incisively delves into the issues that plague Sarah and her live-in boyfriend of eight-and-a-half-years, writer James Dodd, and the impact their shared experiences in war-torn Afghanistan has upon their lives.

Sarah and Jamie both are veterans of the battlefields of our times and their careers have taken them to all the world's political hotspots in their continuing efforts to record and remember the atrocities mankind inflicts upon its own. And although they consider themselves to be detached and objective in the way that great journalists tend to be, we watch their reserve and their bravado crumble before us as they unravel the truths of their lives. It becomes clear, in the process, that the somewhat romanticized specter of "the foreign correspondent" that used to inspire ambitious youngsters to pursue careers in journalism has been bloodied, if unbowed, by the vagaries of war in contemporary times.

Sarah and Jamie's story unfolds naturally, in a surprisingly unforcEd Manner that makes the story more powerful and more palatable at the same time, almost as if we are welcomed into the couple's inner circle of friends, which includes the play's other two characters Richard and Mandy. Richard is the photo editor at a large-circulation newsmagazine and, as we learn, was involved with Sarah some 20 years earlier. Mandy is his much-younger, rather vapid and vague, girlfriend (she's an event planner!) whose initial onstage moments paint her as an interloper who eventually becomes a member of this cadre of friends.

Bretton's superb direction is crisp and forthright; it's clear that she understands Margulies' sense of purpose for this play and she delivers the goods with an easy grace that makes the work all the more compelling and involving. She focuses on the interrelationships of Sarah, Jamie, Richard and Mandy with the skillful eye of an actor turned director, giving her quartet of amazingly gifted actors a chance to connect with one another with an honesty that is sometimes sweetly sentimental, at others brutally frank and harshly felt.

BWW-Reviews-Kim-Bretton-Brings-Stunningly-Acted-TIME-STANDS-STILL-To-The-Stage-in-Nashville-Premiere-20010101

Vali Forrister gives an exquisitely wrought performance as Sarah, articulating her character's conflicting loyalties and twisted emotions with confidence. Forrister becomes Sarah so easily that it's difficult to know where Vali begins and Sarah leaves off, so completely absorbed do you become while watching her stunning portrayal. Her performance is staggeringly consistent, yet there are moments in which Forrister truly soars to greater heights in scenes that are quietly riveting: When Mandy enters, bearing mylar balloons to welcome Sarah home from war, the expression on Forrister's face tells all you need to know about her disdain for such foolishness; and when she begins to make love to Jamie, her eyes focus somewhere that she's not, allowing us the briefest, yet most revealing, of glimpses inside Sarah's tortured soul. Her performance is exhilarating and heartbreaking at the same time, giving audiences further proof of the sheer power of Forrister's talents.

As Jamie, Brian Schlanger is at his nerdy, nebbishy best, slowly revealing the demons that torment his character as the play's action progresses. Schlanger, at times, is delightfully off-kilter yet down to earth, while at others he is loud, boisterous and maybe even a little frightening-exemplifying the horrors that continue to haunt him thousands of miles away from the wartorn realities of the world in which he has lived for years.

Schlanger and Forrister work well together, developing a palpable sense of a real couple in the process that makes Time Stands Still so memorably evocative.

Bill Feehely, the founding artistic director of Actors Bridge Ensemble, is reunited onstage with Forrister (the company's producing artistic director) after far too long an absence, and he gives a performance that is thoroughly free from theatrical nuance and is, instead, sincere and believable. As the middle-aged editor who finds himself in love with a much-younger woman, he skirts stereotype effectively while creating a characterization based firmly in reality. It allows Feehely to again show off his estimable versatility and to add yet another impressive role to his already hefty resume.

Jillian Gottlieb, who last we saw onstage as Kira in Boiler Room Theatre's campy Xanadu, is perfectly cast as Mandy, taking on the challenge of her character with amazing vigor that makes her more accessible. In fact, Mandy becomes the play's everywoman, if you will, expressing the opinions audience members might mutter under their breath when they doff their intellectual pretension. Gottlieb's Mandy is refreshingly honest and forthright in her declamations, more than holding her own with the cast's seasoned veterans.

JP Schuffman provides the workable and attractive set-Mandy's Brooklyn loft bespeaks of the career that has taken her to far-flung locations around the globe-that features some gorgeous pieces designed by David Knudtson (none of which, thankfully, would work in my own home which saves me much time and money trying to claim them, so I can appreciate his work from afar). PatRick White's lighting design ideally captures the moody atmospherics called for in the script, while CJ Tucker's costume and makeup design help the actors define their characters.

Time Stands Still. By Donald Margulies. Directed by Kim Bretton. Presented by Actors Bridge Ensemble at Belmont University's Black Box Theatre, Nashville. Through Sunday, May 20. For details, go to www.actorsbridge.org.

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Jeffrey Ellis Jeffrey Ellis is a Nashville-based writer, editor and critic, who's been covering the performing arts in Tennessee for more than 25 years. He is the recipient of the Tennessee Theatre Association's Distinguished Service Award for his coverage of theatre in the Volunteer State and was the founding editor/publisher of Stages, the Tennessee Onstage Monthly. He is a past fellow of the National Critics Institute at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre Center and is the founder/executive producer of The First Night Honors, held during Labor Day Weekend, which honor oustanding theater artists in Tennessee in recognition of their lifetime achievements and includes The First Night Star Awards and the Most Promising Actors. Midwinter's First Night, held the first Sunday in January after New Year's Day, honors outstanding productions and performances throughout the state. Further, Ellis directed the Nashville premiere of La Cage Aux Folles, The Last Night of Ballyhoo and An American Daughter, as well as award-winning productions of Damn Yankees, Company, Gypsy and The Rocky Horror Show, with Ellis honored by The Tennessean as best director of a musical for both Company and Rocky Horror.


 
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