When the young child who has just been injured by a roadside bomb lies in front of you bleeding, do you stoop to help her? Or do you go on taking photographs because, “It’s my job!” Do you ever stop and ask yourself, “Why am I doing this in the first place?”
Trying to find answers to these questions is given a fresh and timely look in Donald Margulies’ 2009 play, Time Stands Still, now being presented by the very capable and talented cast and production team of the Austin Playhouse. Grappling with those answers is not easy, and when persons in close relationships deal with them, it often ends in relationships ruptured.
Time Stands Still revolves on the story of photo-journalist, Sarah Goodwin (played in this production by Molly Karrasch), and her long-time boy friend, James Dodd (Brian Coughlin). Sarah has been injured by a roadside bomb explosion in Iraq. James, a correspondent, had left Sarah in Iraq because the strain of the battlefield was too much for him. Back in Brooklyn, as Sarah goes through rehabilitation, the two try to reignite and reinforce their connection; but they discover some fundamental differences between them have developed that will be too much to overcome.
Karrasch and Coughlin are powerful in very emotional roles. Both are actors with long lists of credits for Austin Playhouse as well other venues in Austin and elsewhere. Their talent and experience are evident as they express their feelings for each other — tenderly at first and, later, verbally violent, as their differing attitudes about their future together become evident. Their dramatization of the couple’s arguments are frightening in their realism.
Richard Ehrlich, played by Huck Huckaby, is Sarah’s photo editor. He recognizes Sarah’s talent as a photo-journalist and encourages her in her plan to recover from her wounds and return to the Middle East. This puts him at odds with James, who wants Sarah to settle down. Margulies uses this conflict between two old friends as another example of relationships strained because of new realities experienced by one of the protagonists.
Huckaby’s performance in his role is also powerful and emotive. In her role as Mandy Bloom, Jess Hughes plays the much younger girl friend of Richard. She exudes an innocence in contrast to the world-weary and almost cynical Sarah, James, and Richard. She represents most of America: kind of aware of what is going on in the Middle East and other trouble spots but more concerned about the lost baby elephant she saw on a “Nature”-style documentary. Hughes plays her role as the naif well and avoids coming across as some kind of stereotypical “dumb blonde” who has no clue about what the others are saying.
There are moments in the play that could have easily been overdone, but director Don Toner, who is also the Austin Playhouse Producing Artistic Director, has kept his cast in check, even in the most intense confrontations, and keeps the dialogue moving at a good, articulate pace. Kudos go to his design team for set, lighting, and sound, which are very effective in establishing the realism this play requires.
Time Stands Still deals with issues that have been addressed before in many venues and in many forms. But this package from Austin Playhouse is fresh, dramatic, and well worth experiencing.
The play continues through October 19 with performances Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 5:00 p.m. at the Austin Playhouse theater located in Highland Mall, Austin.