Walking wounded make their way in affecting 'Time Stands Still' at Shakespeare & Company
LENOX — The wounds sustained by photojournalist Sarah Goodman lie deep but, as played by Tamara Hickey in director Nicole Ricciardi's finely-tuned, affecting production of Donald Margulies' fierce and poignant "Time Stands Still" at Shakespeare & Company's Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre, they are perceptible. It's not only the shrapnel-pocked face, the arm that is in a sling, the crutches that support her as, her left leg encased in a soft cast, she makes her way around the Brooklyn loft (beautifully designed by John McDermott) she shares with her freelance journalist partner, James (David Joseph, who is given the platform his prodigious talent deserves). You can see it in her eyes — almost glazed over; staring; looking without quite fully seeing, yet. The weight that James has lifted from her shoulders and arms is not merely the weight of soft luggage and camera bags. It is the weight of experience, life, a job that very nearly claimed her life while on assignment in Iraq, where a roadside bomb shattered her body and claimed the life of her Iraqi "fixer" — translator, guide, aide.
As "Time Stands Still" begins, Sarah is at the end of a journey that has brought her from a hospital in Germany, accompanied by James who had left Iraq only a few months earlier because of deep emotional issues of his own.
Together for just over eight years, James and Sarah have become a formidable couple, not only on a personal level but a professional one as well. They are not a pair who play it safe. Sarah especially is determined to make a difference through her work by exposing the world at large to the cruelty and horror in the world; the inequities, collateral damage in the loss of innocent human lives and suffering in the hope the knowledge that comes from exposure will bring an end to the inhumanity.
It is work that raises profound moral issues about the role of journalists for James and particularly Sarah, who too often has recorded human cruelty close up and personal without once dropping her camera to help.
Time stands still in her remarkable photographs but not in the world beyond the lens. For James and Sarah that means facing some choices that will have profound consequences.
"Time Stands Still" plays out over the course of roughly one year as Sarah heals from her wounds and James tries to build a life that is more settled than the life they have known since meeting nearly a decade earlier in a hotel lobby in West Jerusalem.
James — played by Joseph with grace and a keen understanding of and sensitivity to the emotional currents that continually push him in opposing directions, often all at once — has reached his limit. Rushing off to the world's hot spots has taken a toll. He's written a lengthy piece on the refugee situation in Syria and Jordan and is waiting word from his magazine editor, Richard (Mark Zeisler), on when it will be published. Meanwhile, he is working on another piece, this one about how horror movies serve as a barometer of the political climate of the era in which the movies were made.
Sarah and James are not the only ones whose lives are in transition. The fiftysomething Richard (played by Zeisler with a nicely fashioned sense of paternalism, professionalism and unapologetic, renewed life-force vigor) has fallen in love with an events planner half his age named Mandy (Caroline Calkins in a beautifully defined portrayal), who appears to be little more than empty calories — outside the bedroom, that is — but proves to be much more.
Under Richard's gentle persuasion, Sarah agrees to show him the images she took on this last assignment. They are powerful and affecting enough to move Richard into proposing that Sarah and James combine their talents in a coffee table book — pairing Sarah's strong images with a memoirlike text by James. The project stirs up some unfinished business — like road dust swirling in the Iraq heat and sand — moving James and Sarah in consequential ways.
Margulies' writing is smooth and unaffected. Without grandstanding or preaching, Marguliesmakes his points about the business of journalism; ethics and morality on both a grand and personal level; about art and commerce; about what we ask of ourselves and of those we love. Ricciardi's production follows suit. There is a beautiful sense of moderation and economy on the Bernstein stage. Penetrating, key emotional moments are given their due without melodrama or histrionics.
For all her edginess, wariness, sense of the unsettled, the roiling undercurrents in Hickey's Sarah are palpable as she becomes increasingly caught between, on the one hand, her own needs as a person and professional and, on the other, James' love for her and the life he wants for them. A scene in which Sarah is ready to make love with James for the first time since her return to their Brooklyn walk-up aches with pain, longing, anticipation, fear, abandon.
There is a delicate inevitability about the journey Sarah and James take over the course of Margulies' deftly constructed play. Time may indeed stand still. Life has a way of moving on.
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