Time Stands Still
By Donald Margulies
Directed by Nicole Ricciardi
At its best, theater puts before us living stories of our deepest preoccupations. In “Time Stands Still” by Donald Margulies at Shakespeare & Company, the audience may at first be tempted to focus on the occupations of the four characters who walk into the almost homey, outpost-like apartment on stage. The characters range from a famous photojournalist named Sarah Goodwin, played by Tamara Hickey, who hobbles on showing the terrible physical and emotional effects of being nearly killed by an IED while taking pictures, and her hovering, overwrought lover of eight and a half years, James Dodd, embodied by David Joseph, who had not been with her when it happened. They are soon joined by an older mentor, photo editor Richard Ehrlich (Mark Zeisler), who has brought a young events planner recently out of school named Mandy Bloom (Caroline Calkins). This couple is obviously besotted. The audience laughs, sometimes uncomfortably, sometimes smugly through the first act as the mismatched characters try to show and accept compassion, often basically disagree and struggle to explain themselves to each other.
But Nicole Ricciardi has subtly directed her actors to go beyond these real but distracting actions to expose the main preoccupation of the play: love, everyday love. Hickey’s Sarah is an outward-looking woman whose behavior goes from wounded and depressed to determined and brave. Joseph’s James even has trouble making the others stop calling him Jamie, the name Sarah calls him, to call him his actual name, the name he prefers. He fights his own pain to forgive while minimizing Sarah’s affair on that devastating last assignment. He struggles to act on his own choices to cover less fraught stories than Sarah’s rather than to keep following her from one upsetting location to another. Calkins’ Mandy grows before our eyes, surprisingly appreciated by Sarah as she becomes the idealized embodiment of her last name. Countering our easy preconceptions about his life choices, Zeisler’s Richard makes an impassioned speech about his legitimate need for domestic comfort.
In Act 1, David Joseph’s James may need to be even more unbalanced as a man who has emptied years of his life into following the woman he admires instead of following his own star. Hickey, in turn, may be a bit too likable all the way through. But these are quibbles. I was impressed with Mandy and Richard’s ordinary development almost beneath the complicated story of the showier, more glamorous couple. In the end, are they too symbolic of known cultural types? Or do they mirror something important by daring to follow the more quiet, generative path chosen by most of us? The most powerful question the piece leaves with the audience is a basic one each person in the theater must face in a lifetime: How do we balance our need for love with our need for self-actualization? Time doesn’t stand still for any of us. Our choices matter greatly to our individual lives as well as to the smooth functioning of society. Sarah, James, Richard and Mandy generously allow us to participate in theirs by our witnessing and offering our reactions. Then we all get to go home to continue thinking about them as we tumble forward from day to day.
Time Stands Still plays at Shakespeare & Company’s Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre, 70 Kemble St., Lenox, Massachusetts, through Sunday, Oct. 13. For information and tickets, see the Berkshire Edge calendar, call the box office at (413) 637-3353 or go to shakespeare.org.