Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS JAZZ88
March 8, 2013
If your obsession is having a negative impact on your life and your relationship, should you give it up? Can someone who’s addicted to the chaos, danger and adrenaline of war zones settle down to a ‘normal’ life? And can reporters and photographers who document atrocities really make a difference? – Or are they just ghoulish voyeurs who make their living off other people’s suffering?
Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Donald Margulies, never one to shy away from deep, layered existential questions, has a lot on his mind in his 2009 play, “Time Stands Still.” He embeds these issues in a pedestrian environment: two couples juxtaposed, one easily ascending and nesting; the other turbulently dissolving and separating.
As in many of Margulies’ works, it’s about happiness vs. professional fulfillment, and whether the two states of being are compatible, attainable or mutually exclusive.
James and Sarah have both recently returned from Afghanistan. He’s a reporter who broke down. She’s a photojournalist who got blown up. Though we see no evidence of his emotional collapse, it’s clear that he’s still feeling guilty for having left the country before she took a hit from the roadside bomb, lost her interpreter and came home wounded, inside and out. He’s solicitous; she’s cantankerous. She’s obviously hurt and angry. He just wants to end the madness and settle down, finally get married after nearly a decade together, have children and take them to Disneyland. She’s terrified of that prospect, itching to get back into the action.
Meanwhile, there’s her editor, a graying, middle-aged guy who’s taken up with someone cute and perky and half his age. She can’t keep up with the banter or cultural references of the other three, but by the end, she’s the one most secure in her position, and perhaps the only one capable of seeing the beauty in the world, not just the horror.
Parts of the play are a tad preachy or on-the-nose. The life-choices of the characters could be seen as somewhat formulaic, but the level of heartache is profound. Most of the connections and concerns are spelled out, but there is blessedly some analysis left to the audience to ponder and puzzle out.
At North Coast Repertory Theatre, director David Ellenstein brings sensitivity to the text and pacing, and his excellent cast — Mhari Sandoval, Francis Gercke , John Nutten and Stacey Hardke — bring these four disparate characters to shattering life.
The set is a paint-flaking, brick-walled Williamsburg, Brooklyn flat; the makeup is notable for Sarah’s gradually fading facial scars.
In the end, it’s all about compulsions and compromise, making choices that benefit yourself, your loved ones, or at least in your own mind, the world.
“Time Stands Still” runs through March 17 at North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach.
©2013 PAT LAUNER