Time Stands Still – Snap, Crackle, Pop
A REVIEW BY THE BAD ORACLE
In 1993, Kevin Carter took a picture. It depicts a starving little girl in Sudan, feebly trying to get to a feeding center, while a vulture, waiting for the skeletal child to die in the hot sun, sits nearby. Carter didn’t touch the toddler (he had been told not to, in case she carried disease). That picture was sold to The New York Times and appeared there, and lots of other places. In April 1994, Carter won the Publitzer Prize for Feature Photography. And, in July of 1994, Kevin Carter killed himself.
Sarah, the protagonist of Donald Margulies’ Time Stands Still, would understand, a little better than most, what happened to Kevin Carter that year. “I live off the suffering of strangers,” she says, anguished. Indeed, she does, if you want to look at it like that. Sarah is a war photographer who, recently shooting in Syria with her assistant, gets critically injured. She comes home angry, suffering, broken in more ways than one. It falls to Sarah’s partner, James (Michael Donlan), a writer and reporter, to put Sarah back together again. Sarah’s friend and editor, Richard (Jeff Murray) is all for her getting right back in the saddle, provided she stay stateside, but James kind of wants that white-picket-fence life. Sarah is uneasy and jittery, valuing the adventure, missing the adrenaline but scared, too, and no longer sure her calling is all that noble. Putting her feelings into sharp relief is Mandy (Linae C. Bullock) Richard’s most recent bubbly little thing. Mandy is easy, Sarah is difficult, and she knows it, and it, too, makes her angry and a little jealous, I think. Margulies really gets what it means to be a survivor of trauma, that feeling when everything should be normal again, but it’s not, because you’re not. Places look weird, people frustrate you with their petty lives and concerns. Don’t they know what you’ve been through? No, they don’t, and they never will. What’s even worse is that alllll that shit that you carried around with you before IT happened is still there. You can stuff it into your heart’s closet, but it’ll jump back up on you, just the same. When Sarah blows up over a cup of coffee, snapping at James, it’s because she no longer knows how to relate to him, to anyone. It pisses her off, and really scares her, how much she has to depend on him now, how vulnerable she is, how much she owes him.
Claire Carberry does a fantastic job getting across the way that Sarah’s tragedy has made her into an emotional landmine. Peering out from a scarred-up face, limping through the first act, she is literally wearing her pain. I felt her hairy eyeball at Mandy: oh, it’s so nice that you can decline that whiskey, honey. Pass it on over to me. She’s intense, angry, but also made me feel Sarah’s deep struggle, the way that she’s completely torn in half, with James, her profession, herself. “I fell,” she says to James, miserably and we get how far this proud, independent woman really has fallen. When Sarah makes a huge mistake mid-play, we see her make it and, because of Carberry’s excellent performance, we know exactly why she does it, but we still want to shake her by the shoulders and scream “NO! Don’t!” all the same. Michael Donlan brings a clipped, nervous energy to James that made me both a little irritated with him and then ashamed of my irritation. He’s like a dog with his tail between his legs, wanting more than anything to please Sarah, to heal her, but mad at her, too. Mad that she let this happen, mad at her indiscretion, mad at the ambitious drive in her that he, paradoxically, fell in love with. It’s a complex, layered performance that I very much appreciated. Linae C. Bullock’s Mandy is all but shrieking at first with easy emotions, hugs and balloons. Mandy is privileged the way that people without a whole lot of suffering are privileged, but she barely knows it. After all, an easy life hardly means anything…right? Bullock takes a moment to get used to, but after a bit, you see that she’s whistling in the dark. Bullock plays Mandy as someone isn’t stupid (in fact, she’s far from it), but hopeful, which can look like the same thing to jaded, intellectual, bitter people. I liked the way that she took Mandy from feather-headed gal-pal time to legitimately crying in a tenth of a second (“I wish I could cry like that,” says Sarah, and she means it). Rounding out the cast is veteran FPCT actor Jeff Murray. Murray’s Richard gets a lot less to do than the others, but he turns in a stable, solid performance, even if it’s not the most nuanced I ever seen from him.
I’ve said it before, but I continue to be impressed with the way that Barry Feinstein handles an ensemble. He plays them like a conductor, teasing out this line and that line, pushing the themes, but not to fucking death, you know? Feinstein, like many of a sort of old-guard Baltimore small theater director, isn’t in a hurry (Steve Goldklang, another FPCT regular, comes to mind, here). He lets you come to it, easy like. If I have one quibble, it’s in a really goofy last moment that took away from the rest of the show, for me. I would have loved to see it cut, it’s incongruous and feels cheap. I was delighted to see that Feinstein went with securing a dramaturge (Barbara Migeon) for this one. I think it was a really smart choice, and I was grateful for the lovely program notes. Bush Greenbeck’s set construction had some nice windows, but, I don’t know, didn’t feel exactly right. Maybe it was because the toppled chairs and the obviously “grody” paint job were a redundant note that the show didn’t need? They’re away a lot, married to their jobs, we get it. Lighting from Charles Danforth III was fine, functional, if not terribly exciting.
BOTTOM LINE: Time Stands Still is a dramatic piece of art that deserves a wayyy bigger crowd than the handful I saw Sunday (it was a really nice day, but still). Fells Point continues a season of elegant, tight and brutal shows that hit you hard and make you want to keep watching. Excellent performances, effortless direction and a driving script keeps you rapt and thinking. Praise, praise, well done.
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