The latest offering in yet another stellar season at Joe Adler’s GableStage is Time Stands Still by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, Donald Margulies. Margulies’ play, which was nominated for a Tony as Best Play of the 2010 season, chronicles various sea changes and significant milestones in the relationship of a central couple: Sarah, a driven and emotionally conflicted photographer who specializes in freezing in time (hence the play’s title) graphic images of war and social injustice, and her long-standing relationship partner, James, a journalist and roving war correspondent who’s burnt out on human suffering and a nomadic existence. He longs for the peace of a more settled life of home, marriage and kids with Sarah. Sarah and James’ evolving relationship is counterpoised with that of Richard, an editor at a major news magazine and long-time business associate and confidant of Sarah and James, and his beautiful new love interest, Mandy, a guilessly naïve and endearing – and much younger – events planner. Richard realizes how his relationship with Mandy looks, but he doesn’t care anymore – he just wants to be happy. And that’s one of the central themes of Time Stands Still: is that what it’s all about, being happy? The play takes a penetrating look at supposed “moral imperatives” that say otherwise.
The action starts when Sarah returns to her New York digs, helped by a solicitous James, after having been seriously injured in a bomb attack while covering the Iraqi War. Sarah’s freaked out at her imposed sedentary existence and her inability, for now, to pursue her passion for traveling the globe photographing human suffering. James, who suffered some sort of crack-up shortly before the attack and returned States-side, is angry at himself for not being in Iraq when Sarah was injured. He’s also angry; it later comes out, at Sarah for having had an affair with her Iraqi interpreter who was killed in the same explosion. Editor and friend, Richard, comes by with heartfelt concern, good assignments and savvy career advice; and he later unveils Mandy to Sarah and James’ bemused and sarcastic wonderment. Richard and Mandy’s relationship sails with almost uncanny smoothness all the way to the charming port of Happyville; Sarah and James’, not so much.
One of the attractions of Time Stands Still is Margulies’ often witty dialogue, as in Sarah and James’ initial reaction to Mandy: “You always wanted a little girl.” and, “There’s young and there’s embryonic;” and Richard’s later comment on the angst and emotional histrionics of Sarah and James: “You are the Sid and Nancy of journalism.” But, perhaps what’s most admirable about the play is how it raises complex issues while eschewing pat answers: What’s the deal with “aesthetic distance” when it comes to human suffering? – Or journalistic “objectivity” and non-involvement, for that matter? Is Sarah actually a selfless martyr or, rather, just a misery junkie hooked on other people’s pain and anguish? Margulies respects the audience enough to pose questions well worth considering without imposing obvious, self-congratulatory answers.
Deborah Sherman’s Sarah is finely-nuanced and subtly compelling. She’s always had the ability to quietly draw you into the inner dynamics of a complex character, and that works marvelously well here. Steve Garland is very fine in conveying James’ romantic yearnings, hurt feelings, and his intelligence: you really believe that his James could be writing a brilliant psycho-social critique of the American horror movie genre. Getting back to the Sid and Nancy analogy, though, he could have offered a tad more of Sid Vicious’ anger and anguished rage. Richard and Mandy are played by Gregg Weiner and Betsy Graver who, happily, seem to have become core members of a de facto repertory company at GableStage. Weiner is a “personality actor,” in the sense that he’s always “Gregg Weiner,” but he has the ability to channel his distinctive persona in terms of appearance and speaking voice into convincing and absorbing portrayals of wildly divergent characters – as he does here with Richard. Young Betsy Graver continues to impress and showcase new aspects of her talent with each GableStage outing – in this case her skill as a comedienne. Graver’s delivery of pregnant Mandy’s line to Sarah: “Wouldn’t it be awesome if we had babies together?” drew one of many big laughs that Graver delivered. Mandy is a tricky part: she has to be ditzy, bordering on a caricature, for much of the humor to work, yet she has to be taken seriously, as well, for Mandy’s innate compassion and kind heart is an important part of Time Stands Still’s thematic equation.
Time Stands Still follows GableStage’s time-tested, winning formula of selecting from among the best recently-premiered Broadway and Off-Broadway plays and giving them a terrific South Florida production.
Time Stands Still runs through June 3 at GableStage. 305-445-1119, gablestage.