Dramaturgical notes in the program tell us that Time Stands Still is “essentially a love story.” But it’s also a play about war. And art. And economics. And politics. And publishing. And privilege. And the symbolism of torture porn. And morality. Get the idea? It’s about a lot. A whole lot. Award-winning playwright Donald Margulies means to tell us that the world and its inhabitants are complicated and messy. But we are not creatures of the divine. We have made the world this way. And if we wallow in misery, it is our own doing. There is joy in the world, but we must look if we are to see it. And for most of the characters in Time Stands Still, a journalist, photographer, and editor, they spend much of their lives documenting the world, but very little time actually looking at it.
Sarah (Claire Carberry), a photojournalist, who has made a career of being on the front lines of wars, natural disasters, famines, revolutions and all sorts of catastrophic events of human suffering, has returned home to her Brooklyn loft (the authentic, impressive set is by Bush Greenbeck) prematurely having been injured by a roadside bomb in Iraq. Her live-in lover of almost nine years, James (Michael Donlan), a journalist whose career is on the rocks, has come back with Sarah to assist in her recovery. But Sarah is anxious to get back to work, staying idle will force her to deal with problems that her life on the road has allowed her to avoid: her inability to make a true deep connection with James resulting in marriage despite their years long relationship, her lack of desire to have a child, and the moral quandary she faces as one who documents death rather than one who goes in to prevent it. She’s addicted to suffering and by documenting that of others, she can deny her own.
Shortly after Sarah arrives home, her editor, Richard (Jeff Murray), who’s on the far side of middle age, and his new perky girlfriend Mandy (Linae’ C. Bullock), an event planner, pay a visit. While she’s in the bathroom, Sarah and James mock Richard for his arm candy. But Richard defends her. She’s “cute” and they have “fun.” Things Sarah seems to have no time for or interest in. But Mandy has more substance than Sarah and James thought, and she becomes a catalyst for some major events later in the play.
The four actors handle these difficult roles extremely well. This is not an easy play to break open and they, along with their director, Barry Feinstein, have accepted this challenge head on. Ms. Carberry is tasked with bringing humanity to a woman who, frankly, just isn’t very likable. It’s a complex role and Ms. Carberry handles the nuances in the writing and the cacophony of emotions Sarah is feeling all at once with tremendous skill.
The same is true for Mr. Donlan, as a man reevaluating his life and standing on that precipice of true, deep love with his partner, where he’s either going to jump, or not and realizing he’s not the only one who has to take the leap.
I was most impressed, however, with Ms. Bullock. Hers was the character that I kept thinking about and that I’m still thinking about two days after seeing the play. She is the unexpected voice of reason amongst this sea of the wealthy and the educated.
Mandy tells Sarah, James. and even Richard at one point in the play, “You only see misery in the world, when the world is full of joy.” So the play becomes about what these three people will do. Will they choose joy or misery – I won’t reveal those choices – but I will tell you that the last line of the play is Sarah’s and she says “Be well.” It is the most vulnerable moment she has shown in the play. And it is less a command and more an affirmation. Not just for her. But for us all.
Running Time: Two hours with one 15-minute intermission.