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Saturday, 17 August 2013 20:58

Darkness of the heart: 'Time Stands Still' at Insight

Written by Andrea Braun
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Darkness of the heart: 'Time Stands Still' at Insight
insighttheatrecompany.com

In "Time Stands Still," Donald Margulies takes a deceptively simple premise, examines it from four different perspectives (one per character), and how you feel about the play may well depend on which character you find espouses your particular belief.

Margulies has created here, as in "Dinner With Friends," two couples, but that's about where the similarities end. For me, this is a much richer, more mature work, more introspective and reminiscent of Margulies' "Brooklyn Boy."

Sarah (Jenni Ryan) has been with James (Chad Morris) for eight years, and they have shared an adventurous life as globe-trotting combat journalists, she taking the photos and he writing the stories. When we meet them, he is helping her into their eclectically decorated Brooklyn loft upon her return from weeks in a hospital in the Middle East after having been badly injured in a tank explosion which killed her translator, Tariq. Her arm is in a sling, leg is broken, and one side of her face is disfigured by shrapnel; however, her first thought is for her cameras, two of which miraculously survived the blast. They are fortyish, seemingly settled with each other and focused on Sarah's recovery. Their friend and editor, 50-something Richard (Jerry Vogel) and his new (much younger) girlfriend Mandy (Julia Crump) drop by with good wishes and balloons, and that provides the opportunity for some exposition, thus catching the audience up on who these people are and what has happened to them.

While Sarah's wisecracks are funny, essentially she is a serious person, and Ryan is very good in the part. Sarah believes in her work and its value, but who else does or does not? Mandy for one, while seemingly carrying around more air in her head than the Mylar balloons she presents as a homecoming gift, may in fact, speak for many of us when she wants to know how Sarah can just stand around taking pictures of atrocities rather than trying to offer help. Richard mediates their dispute to the extent that he can, and he seems the least disturbed by Sarah's work of all of them, even Sarah herself. Despite her assertion that her contribution is in recording events to make the rest of the world aware of the real horrors she witnesses, we find later that she may not be entirely sure about what she's doing herself. She is eloquent in her explanation of how the act of photography shrinks everything down to just what she can see through her lens making "time stand still," but there is much more to say, and we're going to hear about it from all angles in a very full two acts dominated by much more talk than action.

There are relationships and priorities to examine, as well as philosophical questions. Richard claims to love Mandy, denying she's his midlife crisis crush, and eventually we see why he does. Crump very nearly steals the whole show from three more seasoned actors than she. Her part is well-written, but she makes the very most of every word and gesture. As Mandy grows, so does our respect for her and, for me, identification with her.

The most experienced actor, Vogel, is cast in the only role that could be argued is two-dimensional. Richard lives vicariously through Sarah's and James's experiences, but he is not a man of action other than providing impediments for James along the way. He doesn't hurt James on purpose, but as his publisher, he often has to be the bad guy in James's mind regarding what he is able to publish and still sell magazines. James is likely the most conflicted of the four, and he has many reasons why that would be true, taking refuge in a self-created project that allows him distance from his own traumatic experiences. Sarah's self-doubt is perhaps stronger than James's but it comes on suddenly and creates an internal storm that she apparently is able to sort out in a way that you may or may not find satisfactory. Again, everything depends on whose viewpoint represents yours. It's tempting to make a quiz to test whether you are a Sarah, a James, a Mandy or a Richard.

If this review seems opaque, that's because it's hard to tell much of the story without spoilers. I can say that John Contini's direction is excellent, and we get a real sense of who these people are, not the least because of the way he has brought them out from behind the literal meaning of their lines. However, they do still need to work a bit on enunciation. Aside from Vogel, if I hadn't read the play, I think there are parts I might not be able to follow. However, Contini has blocked to the center of the house most of the time, and it was my choice to sit to the side. If you go, I recommend the middle.

The sprawling set creates the perfect atmosphere for its inhabitants, and Mark Wilson's design is flexible and unconfined. Bryce Dale Allen's musical choices have been made more for message than era, and they are evocative but sometimes too loud. Street noises are sporadic, but they are an apt reminder of where we are. Kathleen San Roman's lights set the mood. Overall, this is the most interesting production I've seen at Insight Theatre so far, and I highly recommend it.

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