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Spree Theater Review with Darwin McPherson: Time Stands Still

When Mandy, one of the “lesser” characters in Donald Margulies’ Time Stands Still, questions why nature documentarians don’t help a lost baby elephant reunite with its mother (known by them to be a short distance away), she unveils the painful paradox that is the crux of the new play now playing at the Kavinoky. She is told that baby elephants die in the wild all the time, and that the filmmakers are only doing their job.

Their job, of course, is to document what happens in nature, not change the course of it through their intervention. That philosophy also drives main characters James, a journalist who has seen and experienced too much on the battlefield, and Sarah, his photographer lover who, at the beginning of the play, has just returned stateside after being seriously wounded in Iraq.

James has seen enough of the pain and horror that comprises his career, and is ready to move on to other writing ventures. Sarah, on the other hand, needs time to heal, but is driven to continue her mission to tell the stories the public wouldn’t see without her camera. But as Mandy (once again) so pointedly notes, “What am I supposed to do about this?” Is it really so important for Sarah to do this work? If so, is it for us, or for herself? Is the journalist’s hands-off objectivity any more heartless than the reader’s distant apathy?

The beauty of Time Stands Still is that the play offers these insightful queries about the nature of wartime journalism not via preachy dialogue, but through the interactions of richly developed characters. Time Stands Still is crisply contemporary, and in the hands of the Kavinoky creative team, expertly executed.

First you notice James and Sarah’s Brooklyn loft, designed by David King. It is everything one would expect it to be, cramped but cozy, and illustrated with photo negatives of conflicts past. Then there are the characters themselves. James, played by Guy Balotine, is attentive and tenuous, knowing full well what Sarah has gone through and how heavy that loss could’ve been. And Sarah, played by Kristen Tripp Kelley, is burdened by the casts that bind her right arm and leg and the mental and physical scars her experiences have wrought.

Seemingly secondary characters Mandy and Richard (Christina Golab and Peter Palmisano) are also wonderfully alive. Though seemingly young and naïve, Mandy is, at heart, a solid soul without grandiose self delusions of moral motivations. Richard, friend and editorial interface for James and Sarah, has to juggle his personal loyalties with his professional duties.

All of their exchanges make Time Stands Still a wonderfully realized theatrical experience. Marguilies produces marvelous dialogue for characters who know each other far too well, and this cast, directed by Robert Waterhouse, lives up to the task. Balotine and Tripp Kelley are excellent personifications for pain and regret, fear and ambition, and hope and courage. It’s very easy to be invested in the choices both have to make, which turn out neither unexpectedly nor predictably…just naturally.

Ultimately, it’s not for Time Stands Still to answer the question of what should individuals do when their lives are lived on a battlefield. James and Sarah find out for themselves, and we can take from our observation of them what we will.

From my end, I see Time Stands Still as an insightful piece of honest, issues-driven drama, with well-crafted characterization and stylish stagecraft. This is the type of modern theater the Kavinoky should be proud of doing, and I hope to see more of its ilk in the future.

Time Stands Still receives my highest recommendation.


Time Stand Still continues through March 25 at the Kavinoky Theatre, a professional theater at D’Youville College, 320 Porter Avenue, Buffalo. Performances are Thursdays, Fridays & Saturdays at 8 pm. Matinee performances are Saturdays at 4 pm & Sundays at 2 pm. For tickets, call 716-829-7668.

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