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September 5, 2012

Review: Everyman Theatre's season-opening production of 'Time Stands Still'

Sarah, the tough and gifted photographer at the center of the Donald Margulies 2010 play "Time Stands Still," has seen so much of the world through a lens that she can't always focus on what's just outside the frame in her own life.

The camera is as much a crutch for her as the cane she needs to maneuver around her Brooklyn apartment since returning from Iraq, badly wounded by a roadside bomb.

The healing process will be only partly physical. Sarah's internal injuries, so to speak -- those to the heart, to her value system -- are every bit as complex and acute, just as hard to treat.

Sarah's struggles with herself and the people closest to her generate an incisive drama about issues large and small in "Times Stands Still," which has inspired a taut, stylish production from Everyman Theatre.

The big questions about the human toll of war and the role of journalists chronicling it seem even more important to ask now, given how little attention Americans have paid to the supposedly ended conflict in Iraq, the possibly endless one in Afghanistan.

The other major concern in the play provides ...

potent fuel as well.

Sarah's relationship with longtime boyfriend James, a reporter who had a meltdown in Iraq, involves its own shifting demarcation lines, sudden flare-ups, tentative truces.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning Margulies develops this material in ways that can keep an audience feeling just as insecure as an army detail patrolling on a dark night in a neighborhood known to harbor enemy sympathizers. Throughout, the playwright demonstrates his considerable gift for creating flesh-and-blood characters who speak a language that rings true, a language often spiced with a sharp-edged humor.

Director Jason Loewith has Everyman's cohesive cast moving through the work -- and the loft apartment conjured up in spot-on fashion by scenic designer Daniel Ettinger -- with remarkable naturalness and nuance.

Sarah is not an entirely likable character. She compartmentalizes emotions and responsibilities, and she tries hard to keep people at a distance -- not just the strangers she photographs in the horrifying wake of a terror attack; but those who know her best, who love her most.

Beth Hylton deftly captures Sarah's cynical surface, but also the power of her faith in what she is doing, and the vulnerable, tender place deep inside.

The actress is vibrantly partnered by Eric M. Messner as James, a journalist who once matched Sarah for courage, but finally broke from the strain of covering such a brutal, dehumanizing war.

Having left Sarah behind in Iraq, James experiences intense guilt over what then happened to her. Other feelings get in the way, though, after he discovers more about the time she spent there without him, and the anxiety triggered by this gives the character extra resonance.

Messner offers an insightful, richly layered performance that becomes especially affecting in last scene of the first act, when James surprises Sarah with talk of marriage, the step they never thought they needed.

The play involves one other couple. Richard, a photo editor, is a sturdy friend to both James and Sarah; his girlfriend, Mandy, is an event planner half Richard's age and, it seems at first, half his IQ. With these characters, Margulies revels in opportunities for a good deal of humor that, even when it resembles sitcom fare, comes as a welcome relief and release.

But there is much substance to both of these figures, too, a depth that comes through to telling effect in this staging thanks to two vibrant portrayals.

James Whalen taps into Richard's mix of level-headed, naive and compassionate features. Mandy Nicole Moore does a terrific job as Mandy from the moment she bubbles in with tacky balloons ("I didn't know which one to get, Welcome Back or Get Well Soon, so I got both"), to the scene when she suddenly asserts her own views and challenges Sarah's cold convictions.

All four characters develop persuasively. Some of us may question the paths they choose, the battles they fight, the barriers they erect or assault. But the way they reach their decisions makes for involving theater.

The evocative set (I especially liked the placement of a poster for the 1952 Marilyn Monroe movie "Don't Bother to Knock" just outside the front door) is subtly lit by Jay Herzog. LeVonne Lindsay's costumes neatly define the characters at the start of the first act -- shades of khaki and olive drab for Sarah and James, as if they both still have one foot back in the war; splashes of vibrant contemporary color from Mandy and Richard.

Some of the sonic-visual effects employed along the way come off as heavy-handed, especially the first volley, but that's a minor point. This is, typical of Everyman, a thoughtful and solidly integrated production of a play that has much to say.

"Time Stands Still" runs through Oct. 7.


Posted by Tim Smith at 7:47 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Drama Queens, Everyman Theatre


"...when James surprises Sarah with talk of marriage, the step they never thought they needed."

this was a sentence not needed. better to leave 'em hangin' sometimes.

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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