'Time Stands Still' still timely
Play written in 2009 asks important question about role of citizen
LENOX — Photojournalist Sarah Goodwin bears witness to unspeakable acts through the lens of her camera. She moves from one country to another, documenting wars, famine and genocides for magazines and newspapers. But then, a roadside bomb explodes while she's covering the war in Iraq, killing her translator and sending her home, scarred and injured, to Brooklyn, N.Y.
There, convalescing, Sarah (Tamara Hickey) is cared for by her partner, James Dodd (David Joseph), a journalist who returned to the states just a few weeks prior to the bombing. He, too, is recovering from events in Iraq, which have left him emotionally and mentally traumatized. He has settled in to a slower-paced life in their Williamsburg loft, where a visit from Sarah's photo editor, Richard (Mark Zeisler), and his new girlfriend, Mandy (Caroline Calkins), 30 years his junior, cause Sarah to question both her career and life choices.
"I live off the suffering of strangers," she says at one point. "I built a career on the sorrows of people I don't know and will never see again."
The role of journalists and photojournalists in the field, and their moral obligations to those they photograph or write about, surfaces time and time again throughout the play. At one point, while scrolling through digital images that survived the car bombing, Mandy demands to know how photographing the victims of war helps them.
"By gathering evidence to show the world," Sarah replies. "If It weren't for people like me ... the ones with cameras ... Who would know?"
The moral dilemma Sarah faces is just one element of Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Donald Margulies' play, "Time Stands Still," which opens in previews 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday in Shakespeare & Company's Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre.
"I would like to dispel the notion that it is a political play; it's really a love story," Margulies said during a February 2009 interview with the Los Angeles Times, just prior to its world premiere at the Geffen Playhouse. "Yes, there are ideas in it, but my plays are not about the ideas but about the people. It's the story of James and Sarah, and what they've been through together and what their lives are like."
In the decade since it was first produced, the play, as well as James and Sarah's relationship, says director Nicole Ricciardi, has evolved in meaning, in some ways, but in others, has remained rooted in 2009.
"It is not a Trump-era play, it is not a post #metoo play," Ricciardi said during a recent interview at Shakespeare & Company. "I went to dig around in 2009, when the play was first produced and it burst alive for me. We're keeping it in the year it was produced. It well illustrates how much has changed in the past decade. So many things are said that would not be said in the same way. So many things are dealt with that would not be dealt with in the same way, as they would today. What's interesting is the threads that are the same."
One of those threads, she said, is the number of journalists being killed — targeted — in the field.
"We have these people who go out to bear witness, put their lives on the line, literally, and are vilified for it. It's pretty hard for me to wrap my head around. It's a great time to revisit this story. It's teaching me a lot about where we have been and hopefully where we can get back too," Ricciardi said.
There's also the question of what role do we, as individuals, play in the world.
"I think another reason why this is an interesting time to do this play in particular, is it feels like for this younger generation coming up now, the idea of being an activist may not be such a departure from just being a human being," said Tamara Hickey, who plays Sarah. "Whereas, when I grew up, and even as an adult, you're either an activist or someone who makes a difference in other ways. Maybe in less prolific or outspoken ways, like I'm going to raise a good child and that's going to be my contribution. There seems [today] to be a lot less tolerance for what's perceived as apathy. I find myself, personally, in that dilemma, asking myself, 'Am I being apathetic if I just focus on other things?' ... I think an important question right now, with this play, is 'What is your duty as a citizen?' Not just as a journalist. Not just because you choose this job."
That question, "What can I do as a regular citizen?," she pointed out, is literally asked by Mandy during the play.
On another level, Hickey said, Sarah is struggling with potentially competing passions and trying to do the right thing. "Sarah has a passion and a love for this person, but she so clearly has a passion and a drive for this pursuit. Can she have both? How does she work that out?"
And all the while, Sarah is trying to navigate the new dynamics of her relationship with James, who is content with staying put, writing freelance stories and being out of the line of fire. Can she, too, be happy with this life, away from the battlefield?
"It's not about making someone else's happy, your happy," added David Joseph, who plays James.
It's about having the life you want, he said.
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