Time Stands Still Press Reviews
War gets personal in ‘Time Stands Still’
- Reviewed by Jim Lowe
- Reviewed for Times Argus
- Reviewed on January 24th, 2013
At the opening of the 2009 Donald Margulies drama "Time Stands Still," James has just brought home his girlfriend Sarah, a photojournalist recovering from injuries in the Iraq war. But there are deeper war injuries to be concerned with.
"What I love about this play is that it uses very personal relationships to address very large global issues," explained Gregory Ramos, who is directing the Vermont Stage Company production, Jan. 30-Feb. 17 at Burlington's FlynnSpace.
"It explores how personal decisions are informed by larger social and historical movements," Ramos said. "So I think, in a really profound way, the play is able to do one of the things that theater does at its best, which is to take the private and make it public."
"Time Stands Still," wrote Charles Isherwood in The New York Times after its 2010 Broadway premiere, "is handily Mr. Margulies' finest play since the Pulitzer Prize-winning ‘Dinner with Friends.' Like that keenly observed drama about the growing pains of adulthood, the new play explores the relationship between two couples at a crucial juncture in their lives, when the desire to move forward clashes with the instinct to stay comfortably - even uncomfortably - in place."
As Sarah and her reporter partner James try to put their lives back together they are confronted with the decision to return to the battlefield or to settle down, leaving behind the dangerous and chaotic life they have always loved.
Contributing to their personal issues is the effect wartime can have on not just soldiers, but the civilian journalists who risk their lives every day.
"It's very compelling," Ramos said. "Central to really great drama is a moral question - and this play asks us to explore our values and to think about what is right and wrong in the world - and how culpable we are."
The play's catalyst is James' and Sarah's relationship with another couple. Richard, an editor and longtime friend, introduces them to his new girlfriend, the much younger and less intellectual Mandy - who makes Sarah and James very uncomfortable.
"There's an age difference; there's kind of a cultural difference that is part of a generational difference," Ramos said. "But in an interesting way, and that's what's brilliant about the playwright, their condition and relationship pushes buttons in these other characters."
Richard and Mandy are happy. They're in love and have decided to have and raise a child together.
"And the central characters are at a place where they have to make a choice, if they want to commit to each other and have that kind of life, or make other choices," Ramos said. "It's just good drama. It really is an actors' piece and I feel lucky to be working with this group of actors - because they're finding so much in the characters."
Vermont Stage has employed an all-Vermont professional cast: Chris Caswell and Robert Harte as Sarah and James, and Kari Buckley and Paul F. Ugalde as Mandy and Richard.
"It's a challenge for me on an emotional level because there are some heavy themes in it," Ramos said. "I'm very moved by the work the actors are doing. So I have to measure myself in terms of how involved I'm getting in the emotions and how I'm able to remain objective and make sure that we're still storytelling in the best way."
Vermont Stage will host three post-show discussions in conjunction with the production, co-sponsored by the Peace and Justice Center. A panel comprised of the cast, VSC Artistic Director Cristina Alicea, military personnel and veterans, as well as other invited guests, will discuss the effects post traumatic stress disorder can have on our fellow citizens. They will be moderated by professional teaching artist Kim Jordan and will take place on Wednesday, Feb. 6, after the 7:30 p.m. performance, Sunday, Feb. 10, and Saturday, Feb. 16, after the 2 p.m. matinees.
Vermont Stage Company presents the Donald Margulies drama "Time Stands Still" Jan. 30-Feb. 17 at the Flynn Center's FlynnSpace, 153 Main St. in Burlington. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays, plus 2 p.m. matinees on Saturdays and Sundays. Tickets are $31.50, $26 for Wednesdays and matinees; call 863-5966, or go online to www.flynntix.org. Three-show subscriptions are on sale now through the end of January, starting at $62; call 862-1497, or go online to www.vtstage.org.
Emotional war wounds go deep
- Reviewed by Jim Lowe
- Reviewed for Times Argus
- Reviewed on February 1st, 2013
War's effects on those who observe it can be as tragic as the effects on the soldiers who fight it. In Donald Margulies' powerful drama "Time Stands Still," a photographer and a reporter attempt to piece back together their lives after being damaged in very different ways.
Vermont Stage Company, Burlington's full-season professional ensemble, opened a deeply felt and emotionally riveting production of "Time Stands Still" on Wednesday at FlynnSpace that was not without its light and humorous moments.
In this contemporary tale, James has just brought home his girlfriend of eight years, Sarah, a photojournalist who is recovering from serious wounds suffered in a war in the Middle East. James is clearly devoted, cloyingly so, in part because he had had a breakdown in the same war earlier and left her there.
Into this scene comes their close mutual friend, Richard, a magazine photo editor, who has his new, much younger girlfriend in tow. James and Sarah's response to Mandy is polite but somewhat disdainful of her seeming superficiality.
James and Sarah both poke fun at Richard's new relationship but gradually reveal themselves to be much more troubled than the new couple, and one much more so than the other. Their attempt to sort out their lives and relationship powerfully delivers the message that war, indeed, harms everyone.
Fortunately, it also delivers hope.
Vermont Stage's production, deftly directed by Gregory Amos, delivers the real humanness of this emotional drama. The particularly fine cast proved most adept at ensemble acting, keeping emotions taut - except for some wonderfully funny moments.
Chris Caswell delivered a fully dimensional and powerful performance as Sarah, the adrenalin-addicted photographer, who masks deep issues with an overly "rational" affect. She is well matched by Robert Harte as James, who, despite an overuse of his hands when talking, touchingly revealed the character's emotional damage.
Paul Ugalde presented a particularly dimensional performance as Richard, successfully blending his concern for his friends and his newfound joy. Kari Buckley proved convincing and perfectly natural as Mandy, whose lack of sophistication belies a deeply caring person.
Vermont Stage's physical production was attractive, with a realistic loft setting by Blair Mielnik and appropriate costumes by Suzanne Kneller. Martha Goode's effective sound design, evoking the sounds of war, could have used more dramatic lighting, but John Paul Devlin's design was certainly adequate.
Vermont Stage's "Time Stands Still" proved a most powerful and rewarding theater experience.
Here's a link to the orginial article posted Feb. 1, 2013.
'Time Stands Still' tackles love and war with honesty, humor
- Reviewed by Brent Hallenbeck
- Reviewed for The Burlington Free Press
- Reviewed on February 2nd, 2013
James is a war correspondent who doesn't want to revisit his traumatic experiences. Sarah is a war photographer who can't let her experiences go. They're a couple bound by war and divided by war, united by love and driven apart by love.
"Time Stands Still" opened Wednesday at Vermont Stage, and the play by Pulitzer Prize-winner Donald Margulies takes on those two big "all is fair in ... " topics and makes us think about love and war in ways we rarely want to think about them. That uncomfortable intimacy, plus the quartet of strong performances by the production's all-Vermont cast, is exactly what makes it compelling.
Sarah (portrayed by Chris Caswell) literally can't forget her war experiences; they're constantly with her, in the form of serious injuries she sustained from a roadside bomb. James (Robert Harte) tries to welcome her back to their New York City apartment and return to some sense of normalcy. But for two people making their livings reporting on horrors in far-flung, devastated nations - their friend Richard calls them "the Sid and Nancy of journalism" - normalcy is an elusive concept.
Richard (Paul Ugalde), a photo editor, does what he can to further the couple's careers while trying to make Sarah feel welcome upon her return. He starts on the wrong foot, however, when the middle-aged magazine man shows up with his new girlfriend, Mandy (Kari Buckley), with an emphasis on the word "girl" - she's young, naïve and chatty, everything the worldly, hard-nosed Sarah is not.
As with most good plays, however, characters who start at opposite ends of the spectrum eventually meet somewhere in the middle. Mandy becomes a voice of reason when the seemingly strong Sarah and James show signs of wear once they finally remove their emotional calluses and dig deep inside themselves. Mandy sees nothing but joy in life while Sarah and James are constantly surrounded by pain; they need to understand the perspectives of each other before they can become complete people.
The cast members deliver those heavy themes with plenty of their own joy and pain. Caswell is an enormously versatile and talented actress who, because of those qualities, is often put in quirky character roles. Director Gregory Ramos gives her a chance to shine as a leading lady, and Caswell seizes the opportunity with a performance that slowly chips away at Sarah's crusty exterior and shows her to be a warm, caring, bitingly funny woman with a lot of baggage to handle.
Harte, a veteran of the New York and Vermont theater scenes, makes James' wounded confusion as authentic as Caswell does Sarah's deep-rooted anger. They make a fascinating couple, one that's as genuine and vivid as those images of war they regularly bring home.
Ugalde gives Richard the requisite nice-guy touches but isn't afraid to get in the trenches when he sees that Sarah and James need seriously tough love. Buckley, who Ramos directed while she was a student in the University of Vermont Department of Theatre, is delightful as the chipper Mandy, bringing humor and fresh energy to a production that initially appears it might be too bleak to enjoy.
Scenic designer Blair Mielnik, who has worked on out-of-state sets as well as at the Weston Playhouse, creates an inviting apartment scene complete with faux-brick walls, multi-paned windows and a complete kitchen with a functioning sink. Mielnik focuses on the details, too, right down to a stray film negative atop a banged-up filing cabinet in a corner of the room that reminds the audience just where Sarah's heart lies.
"Time Stands Still" is powerful and painful, but in the end it becomes something unexpected: It becomes, almost despite itself, sweet and tender. Maybe love can't eradicate war, and maybe love can't win, but it certainly puts up a good fight.
Theater Review: Time Stands Still at Vermont Stage Company
- Reviewed by Alex Brown
- Reviewed for Seven Days
- Reviewed on February 6th, 2013
Playwright Donald Margulies’ Time Stands Still tells the story of two war veterans, but not the sort you expect. Sarah, a photojournalist, and James, a freelance writer, are in their eighth year of living and working together. Which makes it their eighth year of putting off getting married. After ample experience covering the world’s wars and atrocities, Sarah and James are well schooled in pain meds, deadlines and the chaos of war correspondence. The play begins as they return from assignment in the Middle East to their Brooklyn loft.
This homecoming is different: Sarah has barely survived an injury, and James has seen one too many explosions. Both have reached a crossroads and must decide if they prefer the physical danger of frontline reporting or the emotional danger of committing to their relationship.
Margulies adds to this conflict a couple on an altogether different trajectory. Sarah and James’ photo-editor colleague, Richard, has hooked up with a sweet young thing who is today’s guileless, striving-hipster version of a dumb blonde. Sarah and James promptly sell her short, but Mandy has something the other three characters lack: a fully developed emotional core.
In Vermont Stage Company’s polished production of Time Stands Still, which opened last week, the performances, staging and story are gripping from the moment the lights go up.
The script is perfectly constructed and beautifully paced, moving effortlessly between humor and dramatic intensity. Margulies draws four complex people and gives us reasons to care about all of them. But he’s also generous in doling out their flaws, and the play stubbornly resists easy categorization or simple solutions. This is a play about ideas, which we experience through characters who have a vested interest in facing them.
Once again, VSC works magic with the intimate environs of the FlynnSpace. Set designer Blair Mielnik brilliantly builds realistic detail in a three-quarter-round playing space that gives director Gregory Ramos freedom to present a range of situations, from intimate to confrontational.
Ramos keeps the energy pulsing with movement that underscores intentions and concentration on the characters’ rapid-fire connections, while still serving the naturalism Margulies intends with his unmannered, overlapped dialogue. By building an ensemble acting style and locating the tension in each moment, Ramos draws us in, the better to savor characters and not just performances. We are in the loft, not outside peering through a window. That proximity makes us feel in the line of fire, too. This challenging intimacy subtly underscores a journalist’s need to pierce private walls to make stories, and the emotions beneath them, public: What entitles a photographer to shoot moments of great human emotion and then hand over the shots to viewers like us?
Chris Caswell plays Sarah with tightly concentrated calm. She has the hard edge and a ready supply of the cynical and self-deprecating wisecracks that Sarah needs for a career as a photojournalist in a war zone. When Sarah’s shell briefly cracks, Caswell nails the emotion, letting the truth of the moment surprise and overwhelm her. Caswell makes us care about the reason Sarah has constructed an iron façade, and despite how much Sarah tries to hide behind it, the actor never walls us off from her emotional need.
As James, Robert Harte bustles into every corner of his character: the attentive companion, the second fiddle to Sarah, the lover who ranks irony a bit higher than romance. Harte is at his best when he lets the emotion of a scene sweep him away, as he does when recounting a moment of battlefield trauma, or when he becomes an expansive and potentially volatile drunk. At other times, he stays too close to the surface of Margulies’ witty dialogue. Then again, James’ main purpose is to show viewers another toll of war: a deadened soul.
Paul Ugalde plays Richard as a thoughtful, compassionate man who’s quietly happy to have forged a May-September romance that seems to have some staying power. Ugalde is graceful and wonderfully focused on stage, and his take on Richard as a peacemaker makes him a warm, conciliatory presence. What’s largely unexplored is Richard’s ability to exploit James and Sarah, and Ugalde gives us the tougher side of the character only when Richard makes a firm, and far-reaching, editorial decision.
Playing Mandy, Kari Buckley tackles a role that might defeat a lesser talent, for she must inhabit a character that the audience — like Sarah and James — is inclined to treat with contempt. Buckley immerses herself in the lovely purity of this raw, witless girl. One of the pleasures of the play is watching Mandy evolve even as she retains just the right degree of ditziness. She could have stopped at the easy punch lines, but Buckley probes and reveals Mandy’s heart.
Margulies never misses an opportunity to reveal the quiet contradictions in his characters. When Richard and Mandy cluster around a laptop to look at Sarah’s latest photos, they murmur in approval, flicking from picture to picture, 6000 miles from the battleground. They are reverent about the solemn subject matter but insatiable in their desire for more pictures.
Sarah tries to stay detached but cannot help peering in from behind them to check for a favorable response. Photo editor Richard craves the aesthetics of horror: He needs pictures for his magazine that will punch viewers in the gut. And Mandy’s gut is punched when she learns that a baby in one photo died despite the mother’s efforts to find help. Mandy confronts Sarah, James and Richard with the central question of a journalist’s responsibility to subjects, to viewers and to self-protection.
Mandy’s expression of revulsion takes courage, especially when the people who surround her take pride in their ability to be detached. James and Sarah’s journeys into war zones take courage, too, but, as they both admit, it’s exciting to find yourself alive when danger is all around you. Above all, what does it mean to bring back proof of atrocities when the viewer can do nothing to address them?
Neither Margulies nor Ramos offers any pat answers. As we watch these richly drawn characters who have much at stake, we can pause to examine how our own lives are affected by the news-making machine. And we can reflect on what it takes to build a strong, mature relationship. Both couples test their bonds to see how much closeness or distance they need, and their hard-won decisions are powerful to witness. It’s another kind of wartime, and no less powerful.