Review: Time Stands Still

After watching Donald Margulies's stunning play, you just might walk away contemplating changes in your own life.

”Happy trails.” ”Be careful!”

Two ways to say goodbye to someone – one playful and lighthearted, the other cautionary and concerned.

Time Stands Still

Time Stands Still

Those are also the last two lines uttered in Time Stands Still, succinctly capturing the yin and the yang of Donald Margulies’s stunning play.

Chiefly about two war correspondents struggling to make sense of a wild world and their places in it, Time Stands Still will likely cut any thinking person to the core. Margulies explores moral and ethical issues surrounding what humans do — and don’t do — for others on a daily basis, and how they at least attempt to justify it all.

What is the purpose of life? How can I change the world? Where’s happiness?

You won’t leave Studio’s Methany Theatre with the answers. But attesting to this play’s power, you just might walk away contemplating changes in your own life.

For their part, each of the four characters in Time Stands Still wrestles with answers to those questions before our eyes. And because it all takes place in just one one-bedroom apartment – albeit gorgeous, modern and spacious, courtesy of John McDermott’s sharp set design – you can’t help but feel like you’re eavesdropping on their most intimate thoughts and actions.

And that is the point: Sarah (Holly Twyford), a photojournalist, and James (Greg McFadden), a reporter, are both recently back from work in war zones. There, they were constantly eavesdropping on total strangers’ lives, exposing war victims’ most private pains for the world to see. Sarah justifies her work at length to Mandy (Laura C. Harris), an event planner with innocent notions of right and wrong. Mandy thinks Sarah should help her subjects get emergency medical care, not simply watch them suffer, even die, through her camera lens. A sure-footed Dan Illian rounds out the cast as Mandy’s husband Richard, who’s also Sarah’s and James’s editor.

TIME STANDS STILL
starstarstarstarstar
To Feb. 12
Studio Theatre
$35 to $60
202-332-3300
studiotheatre.org

Twyford, one of Washington’s very best actors, is her usual wonderful self as Sarah, still charming and in control even while looking and walking wounded. She adds shades of sensitivity and understanding to a hard-to-love character that could easily be rendered in black-and-white as simply gruff, cynical, selfish. The handsome McFadden, meanwhile, plays James as the sensitive, smart, mature man of dreams. While James and Sarah get married during the course of the play, their eventual marital problems are not James’s fault. And yet McFadden doesn’t overplay his upper hand, milking the audience for easy sympathy. Instead, he helps you understand Sarah’s point of view.

Director Susan Fenichell has clearly worked hard with the show’s four marvelous actors, as well as her sharp artistic team – including subtly amusing, clever work with costumes by Ivania Stack and sound by Eric Shimelonis – to create a measured tone and pace throughout the show. It never lags, and the plot’s many small explosive devices reverberate long after they go off.

Doug Rule is a theater critic and contributing editor for Metro Weekly.

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