War is not just about bombs and bullets and blood.
It’s also about politics and position and power.
Playwright Donald Margulies is not particularly interested in either the politics of war or the gory details of modern warfare. From his Pulitzer nominated play ‘Collected Stories’ to his Pulitzer-winning play ‘The Dinner Party,’ Margulies has always been interested in relationships. Few contemporary playwright’s have done so good a job of exploring the way extraordinary circumstances force people to peel away the beliefs and desires and secrets and lies around which their lives become wrapped.
That is exactly what happens, brilliantly, in Margulies’ flawlessly observed comedy-drama Time Stands Still, running now at Cinnabar Theater. The achingly authentic adrenaline-junkies at the center of the play are very much interested in the politics and power of war, though to Sarah and Jamie, it’s more than just a profession. It’s their reason for living. Until a series of horrific events in a war-ravaged country returns them both to the states, one scarred mentally, one physically.
Photographer Sarah (a brilliant Laura Lowry) has only narrowly survived a car bombing in Iraq, an event that left her in a coma for several weeks. Her longtime journalist boyfriend Jamie (John Browning, excellent) would have been with her, had he not suffered a war-stress breakdown and returned home alone several weeks before the explosion.
As Sarah, Laura Lowry balances brittle fragility against steely resolve. Browning, for his part, portrays Jamie’s post-traumatic trauma with a nicely subdued Anderson Cooper-style sensitivity, instantly telling us that in witnessing one-too-many horrors, Jamie’s war addiction may have just been given exactly the right intervention it needed to come to an end.
But as Jamie forcefully works to leave the battlefield behind—all but ignoring the book he’s agreed to write to accompany his partner’s wartime photographs–Sarah, quite clearly, cannot wait to get back into harm’s way.
Feeling caged by her wounds, smothering under Jamie’s loving but stifling care, she struggles hard to regain a sense of normalcy in a world of polite conversation, dinner parties, and theater performances, clearly suffering from the absence of constant physical danger. Adding further complications to her relationship with Jamie is her guilt over the death of Tariq, the sympathetic Iraqi interpreter who died in the roadside bombing that almost killed her.
Siding with Jamie’s desire to stay in the States are the couple’s friend-and-editor Richard (a spot-on John Shillington) and his much-younger new girlfriend Mandy, played by Ivy Rose Miller, who is brilliantly layered and full of surprises. Initially, Jamie and Sarah cannot understand what Richard sees in the chipper young event planner. Sheltered, but hardly lacking in grit, Mandy brings an outside perspective that subtly and powerfully alters the way these hardened professionals look at war, and their own participation in it.
Director Sheri Lee Miller skillfully and gracefully guides the story forward with an emphasis on emotional authenticity, gradually building tension, and believable connections between her characters.
Packed with gradual revelations and delightfully acerbic observations, supported by first-rate lighting, sound and set design, Time Stands Still is a remarkable, breathlessly beautiful achievement, as hopeful and healing as it is heartbreaking, intelligent and wise.
‘Time Stands Still ’ runs through April 17 at Cinnabar Theater