Photo journalist Sarah Goodwin (Aly B. Ettman) has spent her life in places touched by disaster to document the worst of disease, defeat, and death.
This is her existence until she is thrown from a bombed vehicle in Iraq and medevaced to Germany, where she spends six weeks in a coma. James (Aaron Tone), a journalist and her partner of eight years who recently returned to the States, rushes to her side, regretting having left her alone and hoping his bedside vigil redeems him.
Richard (Jim Epstein), Sarah’s photo editor and former love, greets the couple back in New York with his pregnant fiancée in tow—a young, somewhat naive, effervescent event planner named Mandy (Chelsea Mayo).
This isn’t an imposing, outward exploration of war against a flashy back drop; it’s a restrained, inward psychological look at two disparate people (Sarah and James) struggling to make sense of, and find happiness in, the paths they have chosen. Did their lives of “capturing life, not staging it,” contribute to saving the world, they ask themselves.
The action in Time Stands Still is as simple as the emotion is complicated. Never leaving James and Sarah’s loft, we watch them, month after month, attempt to heal: James, a defeated man renegotiating a new life and Sarah, a bandaged and scarred woman stranded on a couch with broken limbs, pining for her old one.
Time Stand Stills is also two hours of emotional bungee jumping—freefalling and rebounding through a myriad of heart wrenching states of mind, mostly Sarah’s, that makes the play feel a bit indecisive about its focus.
Sarah is edgy, condescending, snarky, and judgmental—especially of Mandy, who chooses to see life through a joyful lense. She is not necessarily likable, especially as someone who views defeat (aka staying “home”) worse than death.
Ettman is credible as the martyr-like Sarah who doesn’t seem to find joy in her job and struggles with her purpose for being, guilt over an affair with a now-dead man she still grieves, and placating James, who Tone fills with exacting desperation. He always has bourbon in hand and a short fuse, ignited at times by both Sarah and Richard in sharp exchanges that betray the gentleness James more often projects. He’s a man damaged by the life he’s led. And he knows it.
Richard and Mandy’s relationship —amiable, effortless, sweet— is everything Sarah and James’ is not. Eppstein and Mayo do fine work, though Mandy, with all her naivety, might have been played with a bit more levity and strength in her volleys with Sarah. Mandy’s reasoning has merit enough to go toe-to-toe with Sarah’s logic but is often overshadowed by the dominating Sarah.
Donald Margulies, a Pulitzer prize winning playwright (Dinner with Friends) penned Time in 2009 and saw it win a Tony in 2010 (it’s also been produced twice before in the DC area). Margulies writes marvelous things for actors to say. This cast delivers his lines so naturally you nearly miss the weighty words—words you want to cling to when you do catch them that convey both beautiful and ugly truths.
Sarah, near the end, finally muses that she does—as Mandy has suggested—live off the suffering strangers while, later, Mandy—having given birth to a girl—declares “I don’t wanna watch children die. I wanna watch them live.”
TIME STANDS STILL
March 5 – 29
at Theater on the Run
3700 S. Four Mile Run Drive
2 hours with 1 intermission
Thursdays thru Sundays
Details and Tickets
But, it’s Richard, visiting Sarah and James upon their return, and reminiscing about a past girlfriend, Astrid, who succinctly sums up the heart of Margulies’ play.
Intellectual and fierce, Astrid was argumentative, turning even a dinner decision into a debate or event with monumental consequences. Of their time together, which he doesn’t regret (but doesn’t necessarily want again), Richard says, “I lived without sunlight.”
Happiness is a choice and it doesn’t always align with duty, a higher calling, or even a deeper, richer sense of self. Sarah and James learn this the hard way in the slow burn that is their relationship. It’s a painful and terrible and captivating and amazing thing to watch.
Time Stands Still takes its time to build but anchored by a superb cast, its insights will keep you pensive for days. It is well worth the time.
Time Stands Still by Donald Margulies . Directed by Stevie Zimmerman . Featuring Aaron Tone, Aly B. Ettman, Jim Epstein, and Chelsea Mayo . Lighting: Peter Caress . Set design: Jason W. Mann and Lylie Fisher . Costumes, Properties and Program:Laura Apelt . Graphics and Makeup: Isabel Mahoney . Stage manager and Sound: David G. Jung . Running crew: Daniel Luzer and Robert Grimm . Co-produced by Aly B Ettman, Rebekah Mason and Sarah Holt for Peter’s Alley . Reviewed by Kelly McCorkendale.