Time Stands Still by Donald Margulies, Lyric Stage Company, 2/17/12-3/17/12,

Reviewed by Craig Idlebrook

(Boston, MA) Life is messy.  A photographer snaps a photo to capture life’s horrors; a writer gives voice to life’s suffering.  Life goes on being messy.

The Lyric Stage production of Time Stands Still rolls out like the forgotten final reel of an action film, bravely examining how souls go on once the shooting has stopped.  But while the plot centers on how a war-zone writer and photographer cope after the adrenaline wears off from a near-death experience, the play also illuminates how human relationships rarely are easy, even in uninterrupted peace.

From the opening scene, the audience experiences the awkwardness of a couple trying to put the pieces back together as journalist James Dodd (Barlow Adamson) brings photographer Laura Latreille (Sarah Goodwin) back to their New York City apartment to recuperate.  Laura is scarred and battered from surviving a roadside bomb in Iraq, while James still has the edge of a nervous breakdown that forced him stateside from years of covering war.  Recovery won’t be easy, as Laura is a force of nature who hates to rely on others, and both are dealing with deeper emotional scars which they don’t want to confront.

Sounds depressing as hell, right?  Except scriptwriter Donald Margulies never allows the central characters to wallow, bringing in the couple’s editor, Richard Ehrlich (Jeremiah Kissel), and his much-younger girlfriend, Mandy Bloom (Erica Spyres), to keep the blood pumping in the play.  As with many couples, James and Laura need others around to motivate them to work out their relationship with each other.  And under Margulies’ deft dialogue and Scott Edmiston’s nearly-perfect direction, the four somewhat damaged New Yorkers laugh, cry, yell and talk over each other to try and understand what it means to live, love and heal.

Edmiston and the cast set a tone to this play that is both intimate and accessible.  Once the four actors grew comfortable on the stage, they allowed the characters to trip over each other like a family preparing Thanksgiving dinner in an unfamiliar kitchen.  It creates a happy warmth.

Yet the cast also generates such a tangible intimacy that I once half-expected an actor to bark at an audience member for coughing too loudly.  The only missteps in the action came when Edmiston felt a need to underline emotional high-points with some showy stage effects and a few pushed monologues, and these efforts only floundered because the cast had done such a good job creating such emotional snapshots in the normal dialogue.

Each member of the cast gives a solid performance.  Kissel not only looks like Tony Shalhoub, the title character of the show Monk, he displays equally strong acting chops.  He never allows his character of Richard to stay in the same emotional level for more than a beat, yet he delivers lines in an effortless way that’s reminiscent of Robert Downey Jr. at his best moments.  Spyres isn’t afraid to strike discordant notes as the nearly-unsinkable Mandy Bloom, who brings a nearly-insufferable brand of hope from the first moment she brings balloons to Laura, the battle-hardened photojournalist.  It would have been easy to have used these two characters as vehicles to move along the plot for the lead couple, but the production allows them real space to stumble and grow in their own way.

Adamson and Latreille face tougher challenges with their characters, but they rise to the occasion.  Both their characters are so uncomfortable, Sarah is like a wounded lion and James like a beaten dog, that it’s sometimes hard to be in the same room with them.  The character of Sarah is brackish enough to be unlikable, especially because we are not as used to excusing women for being adrenaline-junkies as we are men.  While Latreille is still working on growing comfortable with Sarah’s ferocious side, she succeeds in creating a believable character at war with herself.  And through Adamson’s performance, we can peel back the surface layers of quiet goodness in James to find a needy and sometimes manipulative man who we all recognize from our lives.

It is a rare play that is both uncomfortable and enjoyable, but the big heart of Time Stands Still leaves the audience with unsettled questions and a snapshot of hope.   







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