What works so well in Donald Margulies’ play Time Stands Still is that it presents a compelling argument about whether photojournalists should be taking pictures of the badly wounded and suffering victims caught in the middle of war zones.
It is the camera that allows time to stand still by documenting events in photographs that may shock the world, though hardly capable of changing the world. So why take the often-gruesome photos or focus on the eyes of distraught women who have watched loved ones blown to pieces? Is documentation justification?
What also works so well for this important and timely play is that it zooms in on the after-effects on the photojournalists and reporters. The images they capture and the trauma they experience are profound, both physically and psychologically.
What doesn’t work so well is that the protagonist is a thoroughly unlikeable character. Injured during a recent assignment, Sarah Goodwin returns home to recuperate. Her longtime partner and husband, James Dodd, a journalist who captures the realities of war in words, arrived back in the States before Sarah. He had experienced a mental meltdown and had to leave the war zone. This meant leaving Sarah behind, which was when she was badly injured and close to death. He feels guilty about having left her behind, but is happy to be home and with her. The problem is that she plans on returning to the war zone as soon as she is able and he does not. Accenting their differences is another couple, a winter/summer romance that has weathered personal differences and enjoys a strong marriage and family life. In spite of Sarah’s agreement to settle down, photojournalism is in her blood. She splits up with James and returns to the war zone.
Sonny Osborne directs the New Milford production with insight and skill, always in touch with the authenticity of the play. However, the play’s unlikeable character is even more unlikeable in this production. Some of this is due to the playwright, some to the director, and certainly due to the actress who rarely registers a smile or shows kindness with her passionate determination. Alicia Dempster does get into her character’s mindset, but does not give the audience any opportunity to empathize with her character Sarah. The end result is that we don’t feel anything for this character.
Aaron Kaplan as James responds realistically to all of Sarah’s trials and tribulations and even accepts her infidelity. The latter is another reason why Sarah is so unlikable. Her morals are at best questionable. Of course, this makes James all the more likable and Kaplan takes full advantage of this with his easy smile and tenderness towards Sarah.
Will Jeffries as Richard Ehrlich, an editor and close friend to Sarah and James, delivers a memorable performance, capitalizing on the sincerity of the play, which always shines through. Erin Shaughnessy as young romantic Mandy Bloom endears herself to the audience by highlighting her character’s charm and innocence. Of course, all the characters emphasize Sarah’s decision to forego family for the passion for her job. In this respect, Alicia Dempster delivers the goods. Her Sarah is absolutely dedicated to her job and nothing stands in her way.
The set representing a loft in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, is beautifully realized through the vision of set and lighting designers Scott Wyshynski and Richard Pettibone. Glenn R. Couture’s set dressing and painting brought out the best of the design. Tom Libonate’s sound design accented the play well.
Overall, this is a provocative play that appeals to those who like to think about serious issues. The play is excellent and the production is good. It runs through Aug.1. Box office: 860-350-6863.
Joanne Greco Rochman is an active member in The American Theatre Critics Association. She welcomes comments. Contact: [email protected]