Some things just can’t be put in a frame. Intimacy, for example, or the messiness of normal life. After a devastating bomb injury in Iraq, war photographer Sarah Goodwin (Beth Hylton) is forced to come out from behind the lens in Donald Marguiles’ searing drama Time Stands Still.
Everyman Theatre’s production of the 2010 Tony award-winning play hits all the right notes. Under the graceful direction of Jason Loewith, Time Stands Still is a fierce, fearless examination of scars both visible and the raw, bumpy ones buried deep inside.
Sarah has found fame, considerable pride and an addictive adrenaline rush as a war zone photographer. Along with her long-time boyfriend James (Eric Messner), a journalist, Sarah does not run from danger, she runs to it. “When I look through that little rectangle, time stops. It just…all the noise around me…everything cuts out. And all I see…is the picture.”
Getting the shot lands Sarah in a German hospital with a shattered leg and a disfigured face. She’s reeling over what happened, especially the death of her translator—and lover—Tariq, while James feels guilty at not being with her in Iraq when the accident happened.
The action in Time Stands Still occurs far from the physical battlefield, in Sarah and James’ Brooklyn loft, astutely appointed by scenic designer Daniel Ettinger as an apartment that belongs to people who never quite got out of makeshift college mode. The place is a mish-mash of mismatched furniture, bedspreads and sofa scarves culled from their Third World travels.
It’s the kind of apartment that looks like no one spends a lot of time there. However, Sarah finds herself suddenly housebound, restlessly recovering from her injuries and figuring out what to do next. She clumps around on her trussed-up leg like a wounded tiger, pacing and worrying grooves into the wood floors. She can’t wait to get sprung, but the question is, to what?
James, on the other hand, takes this near-brush with death as an opportunity to examine his life and motivations and to give normalcy a whirl. He embraces comfort with a vengeance, watching Netflix, learning to cook and wanting home and family and to stop running.
Comfort chafes Sarah. Her face and body may be altered, but Sarah has not changed. She is in sort of a holding pattern until she returns to the life and death situations that make her life seem important, necessary. She cannot grow—she needs to be in what is familiar to her, the extremes, the stark black and white encapsulated in a single frame.
Her addiction to drama is reflected in the character of photo editor and former flame Richard (James Whalen), a kindred soul who mainlined chaos right along with Sarah. But when he comes to visit Sarah and James, they find a changed man. He’s crossed over to lightness and color—as seen in his giddy relationship with Mandy (Mandy Nicole Moore), an event planner who is years younger and light-years away from the more-serious-than-Thou Sarah.
While it is thrilling to watch Miss Hylton’s prickly and complicated Sarah just sit on the couch and do nothing, it is particularly pleasurable to see her in action in the scenes with Mandy. Her scalpel tongue dexterously lacerates Mandy, who arrives at the apartment with silly Mylar balloons and burbles perkily about the rigors of event planning and praying for Sarah, even though, she says, “I maybe don’t believe in God or anything.”
You would think Sarah could chew Mandy up and spit her out for sport, but the beauty of Mr. Margulies’ play is that Mandy holds her own. She may not be the deepest rock in the pond, but Miss Moore conveys both her untested nature and her contagious good-heartedness. And she, like James and Richard, manages to change and mature, taking on the roles of marriage and motherhood that Sarah cannot—or will not—fulfill.
Oddly enough, the two are more connected than they may seem at first. Both are constrained by Mr. Margulies’ disquieting contention that women really cannot have it all. Sarah can’t be a brilliant photographer and a loving wife and mother. Mandy can’t have a brain and dote on her husband and child.
Another deft touch in the production is the physical differences between Sarah and James. Miss Hylton’s Sarah is lean, all sharp edges and angles and not a whit of waste, either in her movements or the efficient cut of her hair and clothes. Mr. Messner’s James is a shambling guy and there is a softness about him, which may lull you into thinking he is laid-back until he erupts in a second-act showdown with Sarah with passion and terrible directness that gives you a glimpse into the hardnosed war correspondent he once was.
Time Stands Still painfully delves into the physical and emotional costs of covering wars and suggests that there really is no such thing as an impartial lens. By framing tragedy and atrocity, you become part of it. Just standing there and recording history can be just as impactful and life-altering as being part of the picture.
Time Stands Still, by Donald Margulies, Directed by Jason Loewith, featuring Beth Hylton, Eric Messner, Mandy Nicole Moore and James Whalen. Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard.