Reviewed by George Basler
Photo journalist Sarah Goodwin (Amoreena Wade) has returned to her Brooklyn apartment with physical injuries and emotional scars from covering her latest war overseas.
James Dodd (Eric Michael Patten), her writer boyfriend, is nursing her back to health while suffering from his own sense of burnout and guilt for leaving her alone in a war zone.
Their interaction forms the basis for Time Stands Still, Donald Margulies’ provocative and compelling play that is receiving an excellent production at the KNOW Theatre in Binghamton.
Wade and Patten are joined on stage by Brendan Curtin as Richard, Sarah’s photo editor and former lover, and Jessica Nogaret as Mandy, Richard’s much younger and effervescent girlfriend, who works as an event planner. The acting of all four is first rate, both individually and as an ensemble. And the direction by Tim Gleason, KNOW Theatre’s artistic director, keeps the action flowing so that the play is not just four characters sitting around talking.
Margulies is a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright for the 2000 play Dinner with Friends. Time Stands Still earned a Tony nomination for best play and was a star vehicle for Laura Linney when it played in New York in 2009.
On one level, the title refers to Sarah’s job as a photojournalist who literally makes time stand still with her photos. In Sarah’s case, the photos document the brutality and unresolved horrors of human existence. On another level, the phrase is an ironic reminder that, when it comes to relationships, time rarely stands still. Sarah and James painfully grapple with that realization over the course of the two-hour play.
The plays raises some provocative questions:
Are journalists, who document mankind’s darkest moments, truth tellers exposing human suffering or exploiters using this suffering to make the front page?
Does maintaining happiness require a head-in-the-sand approach that then leads to insensitivity to larger problems around us?
At its core, though, Time Stands Still deals with pain, not in some faraway country, but in everyday life. It’s a heartfelt look at a loving but ultimately doomed relationship between two disparate people.
Wade does a remarkable job as Sarah, a not always likeable character. Sarah is an abrupt, caustic and angry person. She can seem insensitive and condescending. But underneath the tough exterior, she is carrying deep scars and deep hurts that make her deeply human. Wade skillfully catches both the character’s toughness and emotional vulnerability.
Patten is also good as her boyfriend, attempting to heal his own wounds while dealing with a difficult relationship that is slowly unraveling. His performance hits a high note when James explains to Sarah why he craves the normality of a new life and then sadly realizes that his needs no longer mesh with hers.
The seasoned photo editor going through a mid-life crisis and his annoyingly shallow younger girlfriend could have been played as stock characters, but Curtin and Nogaret undercut the clichés by bringing shadings to their roles that flesh out the characters in believable ways. Nogaret is particularly impressive in a performance that goes beyond sweetness to show the character’s inner decency and good-heartedness.
Time Stands Still is a play filled with sudden mood changes and intense, emotional speeches. In lesser hands, these moments could have seemed stilted. It’s a testament to the skill of the KNOW cast and director that the action always seems natural, not theatrical. Nothing is forced.
Basically I have only one quibble. With the exception of Norgaret, all of the actors are a few years too young for their roles. Sarah and James are supposed to be in their mid- to late 30s, but Wade and Patten both look to be in their 20s. Curtin, as the editor, doesn’t look much older. But that’s a small nitpick in a production as compelling as this one.
I’ll be remembering this show for a long time.
IF YOU GO: Time Stands Still is being performed at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays through April 26 at KNOW Theatre, 74 Carroll St., Binghamton. Tickets are $20 (seniors, $15; students $10). Visit knowtheatre.org or call 724-4341. A “pay what you can” performance will be 8 p.m. Thursday (April 16).