Friday November 24th 2017

“Time Stands Still” reviewed by Jeffrey Leibham with editor’s notes

Recommended*** The title of the Donald Margulies play “Time Stands Still” would perhaps be more accurate if it were “James in Retrograde.” Written in 2010 and being presented by AstonRep Theatre Company at Raven Theatre, this play, like most of Mr. Margulies’ work, deals with loss, identity and the constantly shifting dynamics of interpersonal human relationships.  3 SPOTLIGHTS

Set in a loft in Brooklyn, the play opens with photo journalist Sarah (Sara Pavlak McGuire) returning home after being injured by a roadside bomb in Iraq. Assisting her is her boyfriend of 9 years James (Robert Tobin), a reporter who was also covering the war in Iraq but was not there when the accident occurred. James is wracked with guilt as he left Sarah alone in Iraq because he had a bit of a breakdown due to the stressful conditions that type of work demands. The two live together in a sparse but well appointed unit with nice artistic touches by scenic designer Jeremiah Barr. Welcoming Sarah home are Richard (Rob Frankel), a photo editor for a large New York magazine, and his new girlfriend, Mandy (Kirra Silver). This is the first time that both Sarah and James are meeting Mandy, who is much younger than Richard and has only been dating him for a few months. Mandy is in awe of Sarah and all of the praise and recognition that Sarah has garnered for her photographic work. Mandy is humble and feels that she doesn’t measure up to Sarah’s status due to the fact that she is an event planner. But Sarah may not be so noble and honest. We eventually learn that she had a very close relationship with her translator, and fixer, named Tariq, who was killed by that very same IED that maimed her. Due to the accident, Sarah may not be able to bear children. She also reveals that she was unfaithful to James with Tariq and truly loved him.

While we see the physical damage done to Sarah’s body (she is in a complete leg brace from ankle to hip as well as having most of her face covered in bloody scabs) we really never get to see the emotional trauma that she has endured. Fear, sadness and agitation are just some of the symptoms of psychological distress that any war journalist will experience after repeated exposure to danger and violence. We never really get a glimpse of any of these emotions in Ms. McGuire’s performance. Mr. Tobin does fare a bit better as James. Frustrated by the lack of interest in his work, James has decided not to return to a war zone and instead has chosen to pursue writing a major essay on horror films (not entirely surprising based on what he has witnessed in his recent coverage of the war). As Sarah continues on the mend (she is walking with the use of a cane in Act II) she longs to return to some sort of photographic assignment. Richard is concerned about her mobility –and fragility– but does line up a job for her in a female correctional facility. He also adores Sarah’s work and lines up a deal to have her war photography published in a coffee table book.

The supporting characters do all of the heavy lifting in this piece. Mr. Frankel does a wonderful job capturing the warmth and joviality of Richard. We believe that he really cares for his two friends and the struggles that they are going through. His heart is nearly broken when he has to tell James that his most recent war article will not be getting published in the magazine that he works for. But it is Mandy’s character who has the most complete arc. From a seemingly flighty, naive young woman to a married mother with newborn daughter, Ms. Silver shines in all of her scenes.

Margulies does address some heavy material here, none more so than questioning why do certain individuals crave the allure of a war zone. Is it the importance of bearing witness, keeping the public informed of important political events or just plain personal ambition? When Mandy is looking at one of Sarah’s photographs of a mother holding her injured son in her arms she merely asks “Why didn’t you do something?”– meaning, why didn’t you get medical attention to try and save the child. Sarah’s response is: “I did do something. I did my job. I got the photo, didn’t I?” The boy died less than two minutes later.

While doing research for his essay, James ends up watching a lot of movies. Films make up a large part of this play, whether it be specific titles that are cited or more oblique allusions. The dialogue of “The Invasion of the Body Snatchers” opens one scene while James is on the sofa viewing it late night as Sarah sleeps restlessly. Also, James mentions “Days of Wine and Roses” as he feels that he is Jack Lemmon’s sober character playing against Sarah as the desperate and raging alcoholic that Lee Remick portrays in that film. But the most obvious film surely would be “A Star is Born.” Here we have the super-talented and motivated photographer whose career is on the rise and the depressed and aimless (but also talented) writer whose is skidding downward. It’s just a matter of time (but it doesn’t stand still) until the quasi-predictable conclusion finds our adrenaline junkie war photographer going back for more.

AstonRep’s “Time Stands Still” runs through June 11th at The Raven Theatre (West Stage), 6157 N. Clark St., Chicago.

Running time is one hour, 40 minutes, no intermission.

Performances are:

Thursday through Saturday at 8:00 pm

Sunday at 3:30 pm.

Tickets range from $15-$20. Parking is free in Raven’s adjacent lot. Street parking is also available. FYI (773) 828-9129 or www.astonrep.com.
To see what others are saying, visit http://www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-Up and click at “Time Stands Still”

I went to the Raven Theatre tonight to see this production. This was due to my love of watching  Sara Pavlak McGuire work. As always, she is an incredible actress, no matter the role. I must say, I was impressed with the work of Robert Tobin as well. I realized that being a holiday week-end, the house would not be a large one, but those that ventured out on a Thursday night, were given a treat. This four person play about finding happiness as it is defined in your own head instead of what the world thinks it should be. If you have a chance to get to The Raven for this one before it closes on June 11th, I suggest you find a way. It is a pleasure to watch a story like this unfold. Call 773-828-9129 or visit www.astonrep.com

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