Chicago Theater Review: TIME STANDS STILL (Steppenwolf)

Post image for Chicago Theater Review: TIME STANDS STILL (Steppenwolf)

by Dan Zeff on February 4, 2012

in Theater-Chicago

PHOTO REALISM

Time Stands Still has only four characters and a single set, but it covers an immense amount of dramatic ground, exploring personal matters of love and commitment while addressing larger public issues connected to our attitudes toward war and violence. The play can be seen in an impeccably acted and directed production at the Steppenwolf Upstairs Theatre, where Donald Margulies is reaffirmed as America’s greatest and most underappreciated playwright under the age of 60.

Time Stands Still by Donald Margulies at Steppenwolf Upstairs Theatre – directed by Austin Pendleton – Chicago Theater Review by Dan Zeff

Sarah Goodwin is a famous American photojournalist who travels the world taking pictures of wars and atrocities. She is brought back to her loft in Brooklyn to recover from massive injuries suffered by a roadside bomb in Iraq.  There, she is tended to by her current lover of nearly nine years, a journalist named James Dodd. Welcoming Sarah back is her former lover, Richard Ehrlich, a middle-aged photo editor at a news magazine. Accompanying Ehrlich is Mandy Bloom, a well-meaning but gauche young woman fervently in love with Ehrlich.

Time Stands Still by Donald Margulies at Steppenwolf Upstairs Theatre – directed by Austin Pendleton – Chicago Theater Review by Dan Zeff

Sarah is a skilled and dedicated photographer, but she’s also a war and violence junkie, emotionally distancing herself from the horrors she sees by hiding behind her camera. Sarah claims her pictures can be forces for good by displaying to the world the brutality of war and violence. She could be a hero or just a voyeur of violence and suffering. In spite of the effectiveness of her photos, how much good will they really do? Can a photographer, however brilliant, even begin to ease the pain and violent death that have been a part of human history forever?

Time Stands Still by Donald Margulies at Steppenwolf Upstairs Theatre – directed by Austin Pendleton – Chicago Theater Review by Dan ZeffOn a personal level, James is dealing with the guilt he feels for collapsing emotionally in Iraq and leaving the country weeks before Sarah got blown up by the car bomb. He also feels betrayed by Richard’s inability to get an article on refugees in the news magazine. At the same time, Richard is forced to defend his romance with the naïve Mandy, a woman young enough to be his daughter. All of the relationships are tested and, in the case of Sarah and James, ultimately realigned.

Margulies injects some vigorous debates about the ambiguous moral nature of the press coverage of violence. The highly sensitive Mandy angrily wants to know why Sarah didn’t put her camera down and help the wounded instead of taking their picture. Sarah replies calmly that it’s her job to photograph images of devastation and suffering so people (like Mandy herself) can take action. But Mandy responds that she’s just one average person, powerless to reduce anyone’s suffering. Is that a fact or a cop-out?

Time Stands Still by Donald Margulies at Steppenwolf Upstairs Theatre – directed by Austin Pendleton – Chicago Theater Review by Dan ZeffJames decides he wants a normal existence, away from the dangers of life on the edge. But Sarah can’t settle for a normal lifestyle, watching television and having babies. She needs the rush of putting her life on the line in the world’s hot spots. She’s seen and endured too much to fit herself into a safe and predictable everyday life. So she prepares to depart again, alone, to photograph humanity at its worst.

Margulies’ writing is continuously intelligent and challenging and often very funny. The four characters are all passionate in their beliefs, but they speak as individuals, not as mouthpieces for the playwright’s agenda. Sarah, James, Richard, and Mandy come into conflict, but they are decent people. During the course of the play, they undergo seismic shifts in their assorted relationships, but each ends up more or less happy with the ways things worked out.

Time Stands Still by Donald Margulies at Steppenwolf Upstairs Theatre – directed by Austin Pendleton – Chicago Theater Review by Dan Zeff

Sally Murphy is superb as the prickly and committed Sarah Randall. Randall Newsome is outstanding as the conflicted James, trying to deal with multiple emotional traumas. Francis Guinan is excellent as Richard, a generous and humorous man who agonizes over the fissures that eventually divide him from Sarah and James. Kristina Valada-Viars is terrific as Mandy, the most difficult role in the show. She takes a character that could be a ditsy butt of everyone’s humor and turns her into a sympathetic, caring person, just out of her depth amid the worldliness and emotional intensity surrounding her.

Time Stands Still by Donald Margulies at Steppenwolf Upstairs Theatre – directed by Austin Pendleton – Chicago Theater Review by Dan Zeff

Austin Pendleton’s directing strikes just the right tone of realism and never allows the debates over moral issues to descend into preaching. Walt Spangler designed the wonderfully detailed loft set. Rachel Anne Healy designed the costumes, Keith Parham the lighting, and Josh Schmidt is responsible for the sound design and original music.

photos by Michael Brosilow

Time Stands Still
Steppenwolf Theatre Company
Steppenwolf’s Upstairs Theatre, 1650 N Halsted St
ends on May 13, 2012
for tickets, call 312.335.1650 or visit Steppenwolf

for more shows, visit Theatre in Chicago

Comments on this entry are closed.