Imagine seeing life through the lens of a camera. Now imagine spending your days capturing life in war torn regions of the third world, making time stand still in the photos you shoot, memorializing the events you witness, but not changing them no matter how disturbing they may be.
TheatreWorks’ production of Donald Margulies’ Time Stands Still starts there – when we meet freelance journalist James Dodd (Mark Anderson Phillips) bringing his longtime lover Sarah Goodwin (Rebecca Dines) home to their Williamsburg, Brooklyn loft. Sarah’s a photojournalist and thrill seeker, drawn to a career as a war correspondent. She’s just been released from a six-week hospital stay in Germany after being seriously injured in a roadside bombing in Iraq. James too was injured in Iraq, but earlier, and not visibly.
The two are ill-at-ease: James still recovering from his mental collapse and wanting to protect Sarah, Sarah wanting to fend for herself even though she’s hobbling with a crutch and a severely damaged left arm and leg.
A few days later their editor, Richard Ehrlich (Rolf Saxon), and his girlfriend Mandy Bloom (Sarah Moser) arrive to see Sarah, both relieved that she survived the ordeal. Having not met her before, James and Sarah aren’t quite prepared for Mandy who’s less than half of Richard’s age.
Once it’s disclosed that Richard and Mandy are serious, having a baby, and getting married, James and Sarah also decide to take the legal leap. Having met in the field, they bonded tightly through the traumatic events they covered and have been together for nine years. While James and Sarah’s decision isn’t impetuous, it precipitates self reflection by them both along with some unexpected disclosures that are part of their physical and emotional healing processes.
Scenic Designer Erik Flatmo’s unit set brings the audience into James and Sarah’s loft, from the stained glass window framed by a brick façade covering the stage right wall, to the distressed wood on the inside wall upstage sporting built-in shelving, a refrigerator and closets further defining the space. The furniture is believable and shows a good eye for style. Two bicycles stowed near the door complete the picture. A large flat screen TV appears near the couch during intermission.
Director Leslie Martinson embraces Margulies’ work and lets her actors bring the story forth, not just in words, but in action. She’s staged some long pauses in dialogue where the characters are contemplating the consequences of their actions as they struggle with their next steps, noting that in life, time doesn’t stand still much as we would like it to at times. While a few of those pauses may be a tad too long, they are effective in allowing the emotional content to make a more significant impact, particularly as compared to some of the more rapid-fire dialog segments.
We see tremendous growth as the characters develop throughout the play. At first, Phillips and Dines are tentative, Dines especially so. Her first scene is understandably cold, if not single-dimensional, as Sarah comes to grips with being home after her harrowing ordeal. Phillips’ portrayal is conciliatory, his James trying too hard to reestablish the connection with Sarah with some of his lines uncomfortably loud for the situation.
Once Richard and Mandy arrive, we see a shift in temperament. Saxon’s Richard appears comfortable, he being the only one of the four who has an established relationship with everyone else.
Moser’s Mandy is at first the ditsy blonde, appearing too young to understand the gravity of the work that James and Sarah do. Moser is a pistol. Her youthful energy is infectious as Mandy tries hard to win James and Sarah over. As Moser’s Mandy arrives, she hands some helium balloons to Phillips who doesn’t know quite what to do with them. She later hands them to Dines who also looks appropriately befuddled.
When Mandy retreats to the bathroom, the predicable ribbing through friendly banter between Saxon, Phillips, and Dines is light, congenial, and evident of their characters’ long-time friendship in stark contrast to the darker opening scenes.
After Richard and James leave to retrieve ice cream, Mandy and Sarah start to bond, at least superficially, Mandy asking about the events leading up to Sarah’s injury. Dines’ tone shifts almost to that of a distracted teacher, the retelling of the bombing and death of her “fixer/interpreter” Tariq clearly stirring up uncomfortable emotions.
Upon Richard and James’ return, they start reviewing the photos from Iraq that Sarah has stored on her laptop. Richard is entranced by them while Mandy is horrified. As Moser’s Mandy recalls an African nature show she watched, she shows strong emotion objecting to the media just watching tragic events happen, saying they could have helped change the outcome. Dines jumps in emphatically stating that “You can’t expect photographers to step into the frame and fix things they don’t like. We’re supposed to record life (or as written ‘capture truth’), not stage it.”
And so the emotional lines are drawn. Mandy breaks down, Richard comforts her, Sarah softly wishes “she could cry like that,” but says that she has to maintain a distance or she couldn’t do her job, and James stands idly by, watching.
After Richard and Mandy leave, Dines and Phillips have an extremely touching scene together, one where their characters connect not only intellectually, but emotionally as they tenderly reaffirm their mutual need for one another.
Many of the more heated discussions between Sarah and James are written to overlap much of the dialog as they argue. Dines and Phillips soar in those scenes decisively letting both the tension and the connection surface.
The most surprising growth occurs in Mandy. Moser’s character convincingly starts as an innocent young adult swooning in love with her doting, much older companion, and grows to a woman with far more wisdom than her years would indicate.
Time Stands Still is a solid, deeply moving, and thought-provoking production well worth seeing.
What: Time Stands Still
Where: Mountain ViewCenter for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro Street, Mountain View
When: Wednesdays – Sundays through 16 September 2012.
See www.theatreworks.org/shows/1213-season/timestandsstill for more information or to order tickets.
(Photo credit: Mark Kitaoka)