Insight Theatre's 'Time Stands Still' Explores Connection And Choices

By Christopher Reilly
In Culture

In the play, “Time Stands Still,” Pulitzer prize-winning playwright, Donald Margulies, tells the story of two war correspondents—she’s a photographer, he’s a writer—who return home from covering the war in Iraq only to face a different kind of battle: The universal struggle for connection and meaning in their own lives. Unlike their work, where they are mere observers of some of the most horrific acts on the planet, this is one conflict in which they’ll have to participate.

Insight Theatre Time Stands Still

Jenni Ryan and Chad Morris in Insight Theatre’s ‘Time Stands Still.’ Photo by John Lamb

The play, running at Insight Theatre Company, presents complex characters in a smart story that peels back the skin on a struggling relationship, slowly exposing wounds and revealing details of the couple’s history and betrayals, both real and imagined. Along the way, playwright Margulies raises questions, not really expecting answers. Ultimately, “Time Stands Still” is about choosing happiness, but that can be a choice fraught with pain.

The story opens on the shared Brooklyn loft of photographer Sarah (Jenni Ryan) and journalist James (Chad Morris) as he helps the wounded Sarah into their apartment. Sporting a brace on her leg and the remnants of shrapnel wounds to her face, it’s easy to imagine her annoyance as a reaction to her situation and James’ fussing over her, but we sense there is a conflict lying much deeper, and there is: James had something of a nervous breakdown and had to return to the states the day before Sarah was wounded by the bomb that killed her “fixer.”

When their friend and photo editor Richard (Jerry Vogel) shows up with his new, extremely young girlfriend, Mandy (Julia Crump), the young woman presents Sarah with two mylar helium balloons reading, “Welcome Home” and “Get Well Soon,” a gift that Sarah treats with contempt, but why? Perhaps because of Mandy’s youth, about which she says, “There’s young, and there’s embryonic.” More likely it is her contempt for the ordinary, the simplistic, the little thoughtful gestures employed by those who would choose a simpler life. To Sarah, anything less than a life full of adventure and danger deserves derision.

It’s the young Mandy who will raise one of the big questions of the play: How can a photographer stand there and take pictures of a disaster scene—where there are wounded people in need of immediate care—instead of putting down the camera and trying to help? The question is one of morality. “I’m there to take pictures,” Sarah says, as though that trumps everything.

Under John Contini’s direction, the play unfolds naturally, steadily moving forward regardless of how much conflict playwright Margulies piles on. There are funny moments, but the humor is mostly downplayed. Ryan and Morris handle the complicated material well and bring to the stage fully-fledged characters, and though they aren’t characters we particularly care about, we do care about their story because it is our story too.

Jerry Vogel, as photo editor Richard, is relaxed and charming as he “handles” his star reporter team’s angst and mood swings, while Julia Crump’s Mandy, who at first seems to be the quintessential airhead, transforms into the group’s moral compass. Mark Wilson’s soaring set—with it’s towering industrial windows—and Kathleen San Roman’s flawless lighting enhance an already full production.

“Time Stands Still” continues at Insight Theatre through Aug. 25. For reservations and information call 314-556-1293.

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