Saturday February 24th 2018

“Time Stands Still” review by Jacob Davis

 Fifty years ago, the Tet Offensive was broadcast into American homes, an event which is generally credited with permanently burying public support for the Vietnam War. It is appropriate, then, that Buffalo Theater Ensemble is currently reviving Pulitzer Prize winner Donald Margulies’s 2009 drama, Time Stands Still. A slice-of-life piece about a photojournalist and her companions, the play examines how the role of war reporters has changed while focusing on the relationship between four richly-written characters who sprang from the mind of an author known for his mastery of subtle interactions.

We first hear Sarah (Lisa Dawn) struggling into her Brooklyn apartment with the aid of her boyfriend, James (Brad Lawrence). Sarah has a broken leg, a broken arm, and burns on her face. She was wounded in an explosion while in Iraq and has just returned from a hospital in Germany after weeks in a medically-induced coma. Despite the trying situation, her interactions with James are familiar, supportive, and warm, and she’s quickly back to critiquing his ideas for a column. James, we learn, is a freelance reporter and opinion writer on foreign conflicts, but Sarah questions whether he really has a firm grasp on his own philosophy, and he had burned out and left Iraq a few weeks prior to her injury. Soon after settling in, they are joined by their somewhat crusty editor and long-time friend, Richard (Kurt Naebig), and Richard’s new girlfriend, Mandy (Amanda Raudabaugh).

Mandy is not what Sarah and James had expected. Her outfit is very cute (costumes by Rachel Lambert), she laughs at their in-jokes as if she understands them, she’s not a fan of hard news, and she’s young. As in, half their age young. Sarah and James are ready to dismiss her, but Mandy unexpectedly shows some grit, and her questions force them to reconsider how they justify their claim to be serving some vital function. Richard’s claim that he’s happier with Mandy than with a former girlfriend who overly intellectualized everything also leads them to question their outlook on life more generally, although they don’t appreciate his jibes about their class-guilt or what his fondness for Mandy implies about how much he values their stories. By the end of the first scene, James and Sarah are considering marriage, but the problems unearthed in their relationship and their career trajectories run much deeper than they initially realize and spell trouble over the coming months.

Under the direction of Buffalo Artistic Director Connie Canaday Howard, the show’s two hours fly by. We see a group of adults grow and change a great deal in a short amount of time, but her cast communicates so much about each character through even the smallest comments and gestures that at each moment they are fully believable as people with their own histories and perspectives. As Dawn and Lawrence have fully mastered Sarah and James’s ease with each other, so, too, do they demonstrate their relationship’s crisis and their shifting friendships with Richard and Mandy. Michael W. Moon’s scenic design is a handsome converted loft space which is interesting, but lacks much in the way of personal touch, suggesting characters who are economically privileged but adrift and unused to being confined to one space. Howard makes full use of it to keep the stage picture dynamic throughout long conversations.

As empathetic a play as Time Stands Still is, it’s also one that deals largely with frustration. When it debuted almost ten years ago, the Iraq War had already long outlived its public support, and smartphone/social media news apps were just beginning to allow people to check in on the latest horror every few minutes. Sarah and James’s concern over whether subjecting themselves to trauma and ghoulishly documenting the worst moments in strangers’ lives is accomplishing anything hits even harder today. At one point, James voices common theatre artists’ self-doubt by citing the stage as another example of a liberal echo chamber, which was interesting in Buffalo’s production because in Glen Ellyn, that may not be the case. Sarah inquires of James whether it’s possible to be both desensitized and feel catharsis. At this moment in the play’s life, when audience’s feelings of helplessness over the news have been fueled by such frequent online updates for so many years, it’s a question that seems a lot more immediate.

Time Stands Still plays at the McAninch Arts Center, 425 Fawell Blvd, Glen Ellyn, Illinois, through March 4, with performances as follows:

Thursdays:          8:00 pm

Fridays:                8:00 pm

Saturdays:           8:00 pm

Sundays:              3:00 pm

Tickets are $37. To order, visit At the Mac or call 630-942-4000.

Running time is two hours and ten minutes with one intermission. Parking is available for free in the lot.

To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, got to “Review Round-Up,” and click Time Stands Still.

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