Time Stands Still
By Donald Margulies
Directed by Nicole Ricciardi
It’s strange how some lines jump out at you when they didn’t the first time you saw a play years before. In a solid production at Shakespeare & Company of “Time Stands Still,” Mandy, a generation younger than the three other world-weary characters, proclaims: “There’s so much beauty in the world. But you only see misery… I wish you’d just let yourselves feel the joy… otherwise what’s the point?” In a world of Trumpian chaos, those words ring truer now than they did when I first saw the Broadway original production of Donald Margulies’ 2010 Tony Award-nominated drama.
It’s 2009 and international photojournalist Sarah (Tamara Hickey), with her boyfriend, reporter James (David Joseph), returns to her Brooklyn apartment still recuperating from a near fatal roadside bomb in Iraq. James had left his Iraqi assignment almost a year earlier on the brink of nervous breakdown. It’s time, James tells Sarah, to put the horrors of what they’ve covered behind them and settle down, get married and raise a family like normal people. Enter Sarah’s mentor (and former lover) and James’ editor and friend Richard (Mark Zeisler) with his ostensibly naïve fiancée Mandy (Caroline Calkins), young enough to be his daughter. Richard is eager to get Sarah back to work stateside.
The wonder of Marguiles’ economic script is how efficiently it sets up conflict among the four characters. Richard wants Sarah back at work, but James wants her safe at home; James wants to settle down, but Sarah is uncertain. Her time alone in Iraq after James left haunts her. Mandy, who’s removed from the cynical, cold reality of war, politics and journalism (she’s a party planner), introduces a set of values that the three “grown-ups” hadn’t given priority. All of it pivots around Sarah, the consummate “war junkie.”
Nicole Ricciardi directs with an invisible, assured hand, letting the ensemble establish its balance. Mr. Zeisler is a perfect model of the middle-aged, seen-it-all-done-it-all, crusty editor who’s ready, at last, for family life. Ms. Calkins, in manner and appearance, eschews the easy “dumb blonde” approach to the role of Mandy and brings a heightened intelligence to the character. Ms. Hickey’s Sarah is full of quiet rage; she slams into the reality that seeing the world through a camera is a lot easier than seeing life through herself. Mr. Joseph creates a most sympathetic James, bringing more weight to the role than I recall; all he really wants is to love more than be loved. “Time Stands Still” poignantly drills down to what’s most important in life. Sometimes a woman’s got to do what a woman’s got to do.
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.