HARTFORD, Conn. - Donald Margulies' "Time Stands Still" is a poignant, at times warmly humorous, play about the ways in which we protect ourselves from the horrors of life and what happens when our very best efforts at self-defense aren't good enough.
Set in a Brooklyn loft in 2009, "Time Stands Still" - which is being given a remarkable, deeply penetrating production at Theaterworks - focuses on a freelance journalist named James (a tender, at once patient and restless Tim Altmeyer), and his partner of
8 1 2 years, Sarah (sharply played by Erika Rolfsrud as tough and unsparingly judgmental, as much toward herself as toward others; whose wounds run deeper than they show), a photojournalist whose career is a mission to bring an end to the human calamity she records with her cameras.
As the play begins, James and Sarah are returning from Germany, where Sarah has been hospitalized after having been severely wounded in Iraq by a roadside bomb that killed her "fixer," an Iraqi named Tariq, whose relationship with Sarah turns out to have been more complex than James has guessed.
Her right foot is in a cast. She walks with the support of a crutch. Her face is pockmarked with shrapnel wounds - all surface manifestations of wounds that run deeper. James' injuries are not as readily visible but they, too, run deep. He had returned from Iraq earlier than planned, overwhelmed by the carnage he'd been covering and guilt at having left Sarah behind.
The play follows the couple over the course of a year or so as James and Sarah - James in particular - examine their lives and try to readjust. James increasingly yearns for "normalcy," a life removed from the suffering and violence he's been covering. Sarah grows increasingly restless, anxious. She yearns to go back; to continue bearing witness; to catch time, have it stand still, as it were, through her images while, for his part James recognizes that time - life - moves on.
This is a richly textured, deeply layered story told, under Rob Ruggiero's crystalline direction, on its own terms through four uncommonly seamless and insightful performances (joining Altmeyer and Rolfsrud are Matthew Boston as Richard, Sarah's fiftysomething magazine photo editor who, it is hinted, was her lover in a distant pre-James past; and Liz Holtan as Mandy, Richard's 25-year-old incipient wife, who turns out not to be the vacuous Barbie she at first seems) that blur the line between acting and being.