A Very Fine Production of “Time Stands Still” at Shakespeare & Co
“Time Stands Still” is a very good play about staying true to your calling no matter what life throws at you, whether they be temptations of comfort and domesticity or physical peril. Broken and scarred, photojournalist Sarah Goodman (the flinty Tamara Hickey) is being helped back into their Brooklyn apartment as the play opens by her loving boyfriend James (indispensable David Joseph) having returned home after being injured by a roadside bomb in the Middle East. She is visited by her editor (the most welcome Mark Zeisler) shortly after settling in and he has brought along his new partner Mandy (delightful Caroline Calkins), an event planner who is many years younger than he.
The question of the play is whether Sarah can acclimate to a life of peace, comfort and personal growth or whether she must continue her single-minded focus on being the camera. “You can’t expect photographers to step into the frame and fix things they don’t like. We’re supposed to capture truth, not stage it.” In the same exchange with Mandy who breaks down in tears over a nature documentary, she is describing where a baby elephant is separated from her mother and the camera crew doesn’t intervene. Sarah responds “I wish I could cry like that. But I can’t. I can’t let it get to me. If I let it get to me…How could I do my job? I couldn’t. I’d want to take away the guns and rescue all the children. But I can’t. That’s not why I’m there. I’m there to take pictures.”
The playwright has set up a dialectic between those arguing for growth and family in your personal relationships and Sarah who must record the world’s atrocities with the absolute faith that she is making a difference and what she does changes things for the better. It’s very entertaining and you will gladly take the ride with smart, witty dialogue that keeps you changing sides throughout the course of the evening.
Sarah, in Hickey’s assured and uncompromising performance, is a bit of a pill. She can be difficult, insisting on how she is treated while injured and holding her forgiving, generous, accommodating boyfriend at arm’s length thru most of the play. Hickey delivers on all the play asks of her. She is sexy, righteous and grief-stricken. The emotions that escape which she thought she had under lock and key surprise her and us. She may try the audience’s patience but I thoroughly respected her laser intense concentration, focus, and dedication to her craft. The actress is deeply in tune with the character.
Margulies writes fantastic dialogue for all four characters and they are never less than a pleasure to share time within this perfectly cast production. There are many, many laughs in the first act and all the actors have a grand time with Margulies’ precise characterizations and attitudes, perhaps his strongest set of dramatis personae, including his Pulitzer winner “Dinner with Friends.”
Mark Zeisler makes a great Richard, a long-ago flame of Sarah’s who now late in life is settling into maturity and fatherhood with Mandy. He laughs at his friends chasing thrills overseas as the “Sid and Nancy of journalism.” His toast to James and Sarah and eventual exit from the party are deeply moving. Nice work.
Caroline Calkins plays the guileless Mandy with brightness and enthusiasm that is thoroughly winning whether poring over their passports to marvel at the exotic destinations or her seeming benediction to Sarah and James that “…you only see misery. Both of you. I wish you’d just let yourselves feel the joy. Y’know? Otherwise, …what’s the point?” Doesn’t that hit home right about now? She gets every laugh in the script and then some while never falling into the easy trap of making Mandy less intelligent than the other three.
It is always welcome to see David Joseph’s name in a cast list and he has never disappointed. He threatens to walk away with this show in his back pocket (as Brian d’Arcy James did in the boyfriend role in its Broadway incarnation in 2010) he is so effortlessly funny looking for a place to plant a balloon bouquet in their cramped kitchen and so wickedly smart in his confrontations with Sarah whether they be over horror movies as reflections of the nation’s psyche or their tangled romantic past. He is thoughtful, charming and very passionate, a great guy to settle down with.
The representation of a cramped Brooklyn walk-up apartment is handled very nicely by designer John McDermott with four distinct playing areas in a believably small apartment. Kudos on the freestanding working sink onstage, that couldn’t have been easy. There is a very nice sound design by Amy Altadonna that uses traffic sounds of sirens and fire trucks honking even before the curtain speech to place you in the setting and nice Middle Eastern-flavored guitar work. The costumes by Charlotte Palmer-Lane all made perfect sense for the characters. Lighting design was by James W. Bilnoski and it ably delineated the space and set the time of day and light source.
Director Nicole Ricciardi has done a great job with these four actors telling this very involving story. It fights valiantly to honor the dedication of journalists who go above and beyond at great sacrifice to document all that goes on in the world.