Monday, March 12, 2018

Outstanding Revival of TIME STANDS STILL by Donald Margulies at Theatre for the New City

Timothy Weinert as James Dodd
Maggie Alexander as Sarah Goodwin 

Time Stands Still by Donald Margulies premiered at the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles in 2009 and moved to Broadway in 2010 where, despite garnering rave reviews and a Tony Award nomination, it ran for only two months, re-opening on Broadway in late 2010 for another run of less than four months.  It is currently being revived in an excellent off off-Broadway production by Ego Actus and Lung Tree Productions at Theatre for the New City at 155 First Avenue in lower Manhattan that is well worth seeing.

Sarah Goodwin (Maggie Alexander) and James Dodd (Timothy Weinert) have been together for more than eight years, childless and unmarried (which is just the way they want it even if, by the standards of Sarah’s father, they are “living in sin”).  Their relationship works for them because it gives them both the freedom they require to pursue the vocations they love all around the world (she is an acclaimed photo-journalist dedicated to recording war’s atrocities and man’s inhumanity to man on film; he is a free-lance writer and journalist similarly engaged but in words rather than in pictures).

Recently they were both on assignments in war zones in the Middle East and the consequences for both of them were horrendous.  James had a mental breakdown – akin to shell shock – when confronted by atrocities that exceeded the limits of what his mind was prepared to absorb and he returned to their home in Brooklyn to recover.  Sarah did not accompany him then, remaining on assignment in the Middle East.  But what goes around comes around and so when Sarah subsequently was the victim of a devastating roadside bomb explosion which left her in a coma for two weeks, James was not there for her either.

As the play opens, Sarah is returning to their Brooklyn home where James, overwhelmed by guilt that he was not with her and upset by the fact that their legally unmarried status prevented him from assuming greater responsibility for her recovery, has become overly protective of her.  Sarah is eager for their lives to go back to just the way they were before her accident and for her to return to war zone assignments.  But James would prefer to change their lives completely: he would like them to marry, settle down, raise a family, and forego the adrenaline-rush dangerous lives they previously led.

Malcolm Stephenson as Richard Erhlich
Connie Castanzo as Mandy Bloom

Meanwhile Richard Ehrlich (Malcolm Stephenson), their very close friend and Sarah’s photo editor, is in the throes of an even more dramatic upheaval in his own life: his new girlfriend, Mandy Bloom (Connie Castanzo) is almost young enough to be his daughter and is as different from Sarah (with whom Richard had once enjoyed a more intimate relationship) as a woman could possibly be.  While Sarah is a serious-minded, mature, rational and goal-oriented professional photo-journalist, Mandy is a childlike, relatively immature party planner, more into ice cream and balloons than geo-politics.  But Richard is quite taken with her, perhaps because he is in the midst of his own mid-life crisis.  Or maybe because he simply has tired of the high pressure life he led which he has come to see as less meaningful and emptier than he once imagined.  Or he may just have fallen in love for the first time.

Time Stands Still is an insightful and incisive exploration of the changes that occur in people’s lives, of the compromises that must be made when loving partners find themselves in fundamental disagreement over which paths to take together in the future.  Or the consequences that must be accepted when the paths they choose are so mutually exclusive that no compromise is possible.

And it is even more than that.  It is also a thought-provoking commentary on the ethical considerations which might enter into one’s choosing to photograph an an injured or dying child or a keening mother searching through the rubble for the remains of a loved offspring rather than coming to the assistance of the child or the mother in the moment of tragedy.

The four actors are all outstanding, each in his or her own way.  Maggie Alexander exhibits the powerful single-mindedness required of her role as Sarah, the acclaimed photo-journalist who will allow nothing to stand in the way of her art.  Timothy Weinert’s performance as James is more nuanced as he expresses the changes in goals and values that he has experienced as home and family begin to appear even more meaningful than publishing a major expose of the refugee crisis.  Malcolm Stephenson as Richard adroitly balances the multitude of pressures and influences on his life: his dedication to his profession, his loyalty to his friends, and his love for Mandy.  And Connie Castanzo is simply delightful as Mandy as we come to realize that her apparent shallowness and lack of interest in serious matters may simply have obscured her much deeper recognition of home and family really being the most important things in life after all.

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