Theater review: 'Time Stands Still' a powerfully told tale
BY JAMES D. WATTS JR. World Scene Writer
Tuesday, January 29, 2013
1/29/13 at 6:38 AM
There is a scene in "Time Stands Still," the Donald Margulies play that Heller Theatre opened Friday night at the Henthorne PAC, in which Sarah, a photojournalist, describes the sensation of taking a picture in the middle of the chaos of war.
She looks through the viewfinder of her camera, "that little rectangle," and it's as if all the noise, all the calamity fades away around her. And there is nothing in the world but the picture she's about to snap.
Maybe that is why Sarah, played here by Kristin Harding, is so eager to return to the middle of whatever "war du jour" is heating up. Never mind the fact that the reason why she is currently ensconced in the Brooklyn loft she shares with her partner James is the shattered leg, the broken arm, the livid scars etched over her face and neck - souvenirs of a roadside bomb in Iraq.
That sort of zen-like calm is something all the characters in "Time Stands Still" are searching for, in one way or another. Maybe it's through giving up the peripatetic, adrenalin-fueled life of a war correspondent, or deciding it was time for marrying and raising a family.
Or maybe it can only be found by putting oneself in danger, of being the one who "captures the truth." As Sarah says, "If it weren't for us - the people with the cameras - how will they know? How will they care?"
"Time Stands Still" has a similar structure to Margulies' Pulitizer Prize-winning play "Dinner With Friends" - two couples, one coming apart, one trying to stay together. But this play goes deeper, confronting just about every attitude one might have toward the business of portraying war, whether in words or images, through the tangled relationships of the play's characters.
And Heller's production, directed by Frank Gallagher, does an exemplary job of telling the story of these people, through sympathetic yet unobtrusive direction and some stellar performances by actors who make the interactions of these four characters sharp and real.
Sarah is a woman of sharp intelligence and fierce principles, and Harding so convincingly portrays the woman's titanium-hard facade that the rare moments when Sarah allows her real emotions to show through are harrowing - her remembrance, for example, of one time when the shield that is her camera failed her and she had to confront the horror before her face to face.
She may not be an entirely likable character, but Harding's performance makes her eminently believable.
Will Carpenter is James, the journalist who has been Sarah's companion and collaborator for the past eight years. He's as damaged as she is, though the wounds are more internal - he had a breakdown after witnessing a car-bombing, and had already returned stateside when Sarah was injured.
James is the one character who goes the most in the course of the play, and Carpenter's performance is exceptional. The extremes of emotion James experiences - helplessness, fear, anger, joy, love, regret, betrayal - Carpenter embodies with perfect control. Every feeling is palpably real, never outsized.
And his handling of James' dissection of a bad play about war and refugees is one of the comic highlights of the evening - a bit of self-referential humor about the ineffectiveness of fiction to portray the truth about the evils that some men will do.
In contrast to this couple is Richard (Timothy Hunter), the photo editor at the "Vanity Fair" type magazine that Sarah and James work with, and Mandy (Beka Buster), his much younger paramour, an "event planner" whose determinedly sunny and conventional outlook on life is often mocked by everyone else - if only because Mandy's observations cast doubt upon the morality, the humanity of those who, in the name of "telling the truth," remove themselves for any real action to rectify the atrocities they document.
Hunter is very good as the avuncular Richard, someone who just wants the "boring simplicity" of a typical middle-class life. Buster has moments where she tries a little too hard to be bubbly - Mandy isn't really an airhead, she's just someone whose world is more circumscribed, and when Buster allows that attitude to come through, her character is much more believable.
John Cruncleton's set nicely evokes the sort of stylishly utilitarian digs of a couple who don't spend a lot of time at home, and Elizabeth Ashlock's makeup for Sarah's scars was quite convincing.
"Time Stands Still" is a haunted and haunting play that showcases some excellent local talent. It's more than worth the time and effort to experience.
"Time Stands Still" continues with performances at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday and Feb. 1-2 at the Henthorne PAC, 4825 S. Quaker Ave. Admission to the Tuesday performance is "pay what you can." Tickets are $10. Call 746-5065 for reservations.
Original Print Headline: Scarred by war
James D. Watts Jr 918-581-8478
"Time Stands Still" tells the story of James (played by William Carpenter), Sarah (Kristin Harding), Richard (Timothy Hunter) and Mandy (Beka Buster). The Heller Theatre production continues with performances at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday and Feb. 1-2 at the Henthorne PAC, 4825 S. Quaker Ave. STEPHEN PINGRY / Tulsa World
Kristin Harding as Sarah in "Time Stands Still" may not be a likable character, but her performance makes her eminently believable, and William Carpenter's performance as James is exceptional. STEPHEN PINGRY / Tulsa World