In Horizon Theatre's post-traumatic drama Time Stands Still, photojournalist Sarah Goodwin (Carolyn Cook) meets a young event planner and remarks, "I guess you could say I'm into 'events,' too: wars, famines, genocide ... " Proof of her daredevil pursuits is written all over her body. When Sarah makes her first entrance, she has one arm in a sling, one leg in a huge brace, and scars covering half of her face.
Why Sarah takes photographs in war zones and the world's least hospitable places, and whether she should continue to risk life and limb, provide the fulcrum for Time Stands Still. Pulitzer-winning playwright Donald Margulies opens a compelling discussion about globe-trotting, adrenaline-junkie journalists, and the value of their work, even though Time Stands Still pulls its punch by taking a first-world look at third-world problems.
The play begins with Sarah hobbling into the Brooklyn apartment she shares with her longtime boyfriend James (Robin Bloodworth), a print journalist who travels to the same dangerous destinations. A roadside bomb in Iraq nearly took Sarah's life, and she's finally back in the states after spending several weeks comatose in a German hospital. James has psychological wounds to match Sarah's physical injuries, and suffered a nervous breakdown a few weeks before the explosion.
Despite the grim subject matter, the play's first act has a light touch that focuses on Sarah's photo editor Robert (Chris Kayser) and his much younger new girlfriend, the event planner Mandy (Ann Marie Gideon). Time Stands Still gets a lot of mileage from Mandy as a naïve hottie from a younger generation who can't identify Sid and Nancy. Sarah's disapproval stops just short of rolling her eyes. To her credit, Gideon doesn't overplay the dum-dum shtick, and while Mandy may not be as knowledgeable as the older characters, she's not necessarily a superficial person.
Mandy also serves as a surrogate for the general American audience for James and Sarah's work, not to mention plays like Time Stands Still. "What am I supposed to do with this information?" Mandy asks, referring to James' articles about political plight on the opposite side of the world. In another scene, James derides an unnamed, well-intentioned stage play about an international tragedy, and suggests that such art ultimately accomplishes little but to assuage liberal guilt. Director Lisa Adler clearly wrestles with these kind of issues when deciding to program downbeat but rewarding plays at Horizon like In Darfur, involving an African civil war, or 9 Parts of Desire about Muslim women in the Middle East.
James and Sarah's relationship lies at the heart of the play. James lacked spousal rights during Sarah's coma, spawning bureaucratic nightmares. He's ready to settle down for life in the states, pursuing forms of journalism that involve less physical risk and intellectual rigor. Sarah, despite her near-death experience, seems less prepared to live a more ordinary life. Bloodworth and Cook capture the messiness of the couple's relationship, and how, despite their mutual tenderness, they're not in the same emotional place.
Twin set designers Moriah and Isabel Curley-Clay render a remarkably detailed reproduction of a Brooklyn loft apartment, the bohemian decorations taking up almost every available bit of space. Maybe it's appropriate that the set feels so lived-in and cozy, given James' desire for a more comfortable life. Compared to Margulies' crackling plays like Sight Unseen and Brooklyn Boy, Time Stands Still feels removed from an essential part of the action since we only hear about Iraq and the other blighted countries second-hand. It's as if the battle for American attention to foreign affairs is over before it even begins.
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