‘Time Stands Still’ at Peter’s Alley Theatre Productions

Peter’s Alley Theatre Productions presents Time Stands Still, a poignant drama by Donald Margulies and beautifully directed by Stevie Zimmerman. When a couple settle back home after spending years in war-torn countries, personal dramas that were once overshadowed prove to be more dangerous than they thought.

Aly B. Ettman (Sarah) and Aaron Tone (James). Photo by Eddy Parker.
Aly B. Ettman (Sarah) and Aaron Tone (James). Photo by Eddy Parker.

Scenic Designer Jason W. Mann decorates a couple’s apartment in a clean, minimal style. While there are a few ethnic touches such as Persian rugs and modern art pieces, the home does not appear fairly comfortable or “lived-in.” This reflects nicely on the couple, as it becomes obvious that the globe-trotting pair spend very little time there. The casual costumes by Laura Apelt reflect the characters’ personalities well, and Isabel Mahoney does a great job with make-up, showing the gradual healing of particularly nasty facial scarring.

Lighting Designer Peter Caress uses the set to his advantage with some clever shadowing, and I particularly enjoyed the Sound Design by Stage Manager David G. Jung. Sound is the first element to begin the story, layering city noises (shouting people, sirens, etc.) until they become almost deafening…and cutting off with a fierce, sudden explosion.

It is in the aftermath of this explosion where we meet Sarah (Aly B. Ettman) and her partner James (Aaron Tone). Sarah, a photo journalist, returns home to recover after surviving a car bomb in the Middle East. Both Sarah and James (a reporter), are healing from the effects of years covering the ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan; Sarah’s wounds are primarily physical, while James’ are emotional. As the couple tries to re-assimilate themselves into our society, shockwaves of buried sentiments threaten to turn their home into yet another warzone. It doesn’t help that their longtime friend Richard (Jim Epstein) has coupled up with Mandy (Chelsea Mayo), a new girlfriend who is easily half is age. Mandy unwittingly adds tension with her bubbly presence, as she proves herself woefully ignorant of the world’s troubles and repeatedly puts her foot in her mouth despite her well-meaning intentions. Opinions clash, secrets are revealed, and lives change as momentous decisions are made.

The performances are solid, with each actor representing their characters well. Ettman has a disenchanted, almost wooden quality as Sarah, a woman who is independent to the point of stubbornness as she rejects James’ repeated attempts to help her around the apartment. While seemingly a serious “Debbie Downer” (I swear I never saw her character smile once), she does deliver quite a few lines that are quick-witted and full of dry humor, which is needed to lighten the otherwise dense and emotional plotline.

Mayo does a nice job as Sarah’s foil Mandy, a cheerful young woman who flits around excitedly, talking a mile-a-minute about things that James and Sarah find trivial. Mandy is open and warm, which clashes with the private, intellectual couple, shown when she greets James as “Jamie” and goes in for a surprising hug.

While James is a more relaxed character than Sarah, he does have strong opinions. My favorite scene includes him talking about a play he saw that ironically mirrors the play they are performing…only he hated it! James detests the fact that the subject of warfare is used as entertainment (“hell on earth made palatable”) for people who know very little or nothing about it. It is a very clever moment that made me shift uncomfortably in my seat.

Aaron Tone (Jame)s, Jim Epstein (Richard), and Aly B. Ettman (Sarah). Photo by  Eddy Parker.
Aaron Tone (Jame)s, Jim Epstein (Richard), and Aly B. Ettman (Sarah). Photo by Eddy Parker.

Jim Epstein is great as Richard, a character who unknowingly stirs up trouble when he proposes a book deal with the couple that focuses on their war efforts. Pairing Sarah’s photographs and James’ commentary, he believes it to be a worthy project and pressures James, who resists reliving his experiences through writing. This is just one of the subjects that causes tension, and is used as a foundation for debates on a myriad of topics, from ethics in journalism to the ignorance of western privilege, amongst many others.

I especially enjoyed when Mandy boldly states that Sarah and James see only misery in the world. She wishes that they could see the beauty in life as well, because otherwise, she argues, “what’s the point?” The dialogue is very informative and smart, and the ensemble does a great job with the material.

Chelsea Mayo (Mandy) and Aly B. Ettman (Sarah). Photo by   Eddy Parker.
Chelsea Mayo (Mandy) and Aly B. Ettman (Sarah). Photo by Eddy Parker.

This show packs an awful lot into one evening. Spanning world-wide conflicts down to personal and domestic issues, it covers an impressive amount of emotional territory. What I found enlightening and enjoyable was the fact that while these people led lives that were incredibly different from mine, I still found them intimately relatable…which is probably the whole point.

Peter’s Alley Theatre beautifully directed and performed production of Time Stands Still is not to be missed. It will certainly inspire some great conversations!

Running Time: Approximately two hours, including one 15-minute intermission.

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Time Stands Still plays through March 29, 2015 at Peter’s Alley Theatre Productions performing at Theater on the Run – 3700 South Four Mile Run Drive, in Arlington, VA.  Purchase your tickets online.

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