Monday, August 19, 2013

Theater Review: Time Stands Still -- TheaterWorks

Liz Holtan, Matthew Boston, Tim Altmeyer and Erika Rolfsrud. Photo: Lanny Nagler
A Look Through the Lens of Love and War
By Lauren Yarger
When photo journalist Sarah (Erika Rolfsrud) looks through the rectangular viewfinder on her camera to cover the anguish of people caught in the horrors of war, Time Stands Still. She can’t figure out how to make that happen with the fast-moving slideshow of tragedy and emotions in her own life, however, in Donald Margulies’ 2010 Tony-nominated play getting a run at TheaterWorks, Hartford.

Director Rob Ruggiero brilliantly focuses on the domestic tension between Sarah and her long-time, live-in boyfriend and fellow foreign correspondent, James (Tim Altmeyer), giving the play depth beyond its obvious question about the ethics of journalists being voyeurs on the sidelines of tragedies. The battleground at home produces far more serious wounds than anything these two experienced in actual war zones.

Sarah was wounded in a car bombing in Afghanistan which left her in a coma and killed her interpreter, Tariq. Now, with an injured arm and leg and a face scarred by the shrapnel (Special Makeup Design by Joe Rossi), Sarah returns to their Brooklyn apartment to recover (Luke Hegel-Cantarella designs the terrific loft.)

An over attentive Jamie, feeling guilty because he suffered a breakdown and was back in the states when Sarah was injured, drives her crazy with his attempts to help. His traumatic experience and Sarah’s brush with death have him re-thinking priorities in his life and he wants to settle down, get married and have children – a previously forbidden subject in the household. He doesn’t want to “dodge bullets or step over dead children” any more, he tells her. He is willing to forgive Sarah’s past infidelity with Tariq so they can have a future together.

Sarah isn’t so sure, however. Tariq was more than just a war-time fling for her, but the sudden domestic bliss of the couple’s editor, Richard (Matthew Boston) and his much-younger, na├»ve wife, Mandy (Liz Holtan who adds much-need and superbly acted humor to the plot) make her wonder if she shouldn’t go ahead and accept Jamie’s proposal. Thinking about what she does for a living has Sarah wondering about ethics, especially when blissful new mom Mandy questions her motives about how she can stand by and observe without doing anything to help.

“The camera is there to record life, not change it,” Sarah replies, tersely. “If I let it get to me, how could I do my job? I’m there to take pictures.”

It does get to her, though, as she suffers flashbacks, But telling the story truthfully, without interference is most important to her and she wants to get back to her job regardless of its difficulties and dangers.

She’s especially not happy with Jamie’s reporting for a book Richard wants them to write about the experience. Jamie seems more interested in writing another, lighter piece about horror films than telling about what happened in Afghanistan and when he finally writes up the car-bomb account, he leaves Tariq out of it, to Sarah’s frustration. The damage to their relationship, which started way before the bombing, just might be harder to fix than her physical injuries.

The play is a well written, thought-provoking piece from the Pulitzer-Prize winning and Connecticut playwright with a strong ensemble. Particularly smart is a photo exhibit in the lobby of a number of famous and award-winning photographs similar to the kind Sarah might have been taking. Viewing them before and after the show gives added insight into the character and into the role of photojournalists and in a way, makes time stand still as you reflect.

Time Stands Still closes out the 2012-2013 season at TheaterWorks, 233 Pearl St., Hartford. It runs through Sept. 15, Performances: Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays: 7:30 pm; Fridays and Saturdays: 8 pm; Weekend Matinees at 2:30 pm. Tickets $17-$63: 860-527-7838;

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Lauren Yarger with playwright Alfred Uhry at the Mark Twain House. Photo: Jacques Lamarre)
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