Review: ‘Time Stands Still’ is worth your time, does not stand still

I have been sitting on my thoughts about Studio Theatre’s current mainstage production Time Stands Still for several days now. It may be because I have been distracted by a.) work I actually get paid to do, and b.) pug photos on the Internet, but I prefer to imagine that my delay is caused by a careful rumination on the show and my response to it. Indeed, it was a terrific production and I enjoyed it very much. Time Stands Still details the emotional landscapes of partners Sarah and James, two career-long war correspondents. The show opens mere weeks after Sarah has suffered extensive injuries in a roadside bombing in Iraq, and unfolds into a painful exploration of the way disaster changes us. As of yet, both long-term romantic partnerships and war correspondence are activities I have only observed rather than engaged in. Still, I found myself deliberating whether Time Stands Still had more to say about relationships, or journalism.

Like playwright Daniel Marguiles’ Pulitzer-winning Dinner with Friends, Time Stands Still juxtaposes two couples with differing relationship dynamics to make conclusions about each. Sarah and James’ lifelong friend Richard’s new relationship, with the much younger and decidedly uncomplicated Mandy, compels the viewer to consider exactly what it is important in a partnership. While Sarah and James share a brainy passion charged by the adrenaline of war, Richard and Mandy’s union seems initially vulnerable to the criticism that it is shallow or trite. As Marguiles’ story unfolds, though, it becomes obvious that Sarah can be just as exhausting and intellectually aggressive as Mandy can be cloyingly buoyant. Holly Twyford does a terrific job as Sarah in winning both our acute sympathy and intermittent disappointment, particularly as she undercuts an obviously well-meaning Mandy’s work as an event planner. Similarly, actress Laura C. Harris gives us a Mandy we can’t help forgive for a naivete that is more than compensated for by earnestness. The humanization of her character struck me as particularly apt in a city like DC, whose intellectual hoity-toityism can strikes me as downright nasty.

Time Stands Still deals also with the ethics of journalism, and the roles of those who cover horrific events. The debate actually reminded me of something from the Pulitzer Prize photo exhibit in Newseum. You can Google Image Search your way to any one of the photos on display there, but there is something arresting about the visual power of a few dozen of them blown up and slapped on a way with explanatory plaques. Photojournalist Kevin Carter, who snapped this famous photo in 1994 while covering famine in Sudan, endured wide criticism for doing nothing to help the dying boy in the frame. A horrified Mandy also asked Sarah how she could remain indifferent while shooting atrocities in Iraq. As Sarah asserts her role as an impartial collector of evidence, the audience can’t help but wonder what exactly determines the line. It is so easy to regard a great photo as a pure moment captured in time, and it can almost make us forget the people behind the cameras. In the age of reality television, the criticism that observers affect a situation is practically a given. Beyond the fact that we have more respect for journalists than for Snooki, are we really so sure there is a clearly demarcated difference between participants and observers?

As the production drew to a close, I found myself aching for a few things. Charming exposed duct-work would be nice. (Sidenote: The Studio Theatre is so chic. Why is it that the sleek industrial hip-mongering that spoils most U Street Corridor restaurants for me is so perfect in a theatre??? BECAUSE I AM AN ASSHOLE, that’s why.) What I really want, though, is Daniel Marguiles ability to write the LIVING CRAP out of a scene in which nothing even happens. His knack for exposition makes me, like, totally hate him. Labored, obvious exposition is the absolute worst. The most recent offender that comes to mind is the script of the not romantic nor comedic New Year’s Eve, which was so agonizing that I wouldn’t wish it on anyone (except, perhaps, for those of us who willingly saw New Year’s Eve.) You know what I mean by labored exposition, right? I hate it when characters divulge backstory unnaturally. As in, “Hey there, Stu! I hate to see you so bummed out since your girlfriend of a year, Jenny, dumped you last week! Ever since we met each other in our college dorm, I have never seen you this upset, because you are usually a very pleasant guy!” UM, NO ONE TALKS LIKE THAT. Playwright Daniel Marguiles knows that – his characters, like real Earthlings, play out their scenes in the context of their secrets and discoveries – and the audience is gradually let into the fold. The effect is electric – a conversation about something as simple as balloons becomes a stand-in for feelings of alienation and imposition. In real life, the emotional content of a given conversation tends to diverge just as epically from the topic at hand. Abstractions rarely start fights – things like annoying text messages do.

And, speaking of picking fights – lest you should suspect I’ve become some sort of cheerful, reasoned adult – I do have a wee bone to pick with the Studio Theatre’s production of Time Stands Still. Its use of music was a bit cinematic, and I mean that pejoratively – like, picture the cartoon guy with the monocle in the New Yorker saying it. My major issue with musical scores in movies is that they tend to co-enlist video montages as accomplices in an unsavory battle against good writing. It’s emotionally manipulative, that’s what. And what’s funny is that the production didn’t even need it. The music is presumably there to give us a sense of closure, but I like to think that Mr. Marguiles would agree with me that it didn’t belong. The thing about real life is that it doesn’t accent our pivotal moments with an orchestral score – most of them instead slosh through an uncomfy silence, and I wish the production trusted us enough to endure it.

Time Stands Still is playing at The Studio Theatre through February 12. You can buy tickets here.

– A “my life soundtrack would definitely include me strutting to Another One Bites The Dust” Natalie

About Natalie Shure

literature, life and latte lady

2 Responses to “Review: ‘Time Stands Still’ is worth your time, does not stand still”

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  2. I completely agree with everything said in this blog post.

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