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Theater Tue Jan 31 2012

Review: Time Stands Still @ Steppenwolf

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What motivates someone to dedicate their life to documenting the horrors of warfare? With Pulitzer finalist Donald Margulies' Time Stands Still, Steppenwolf Theatre explores the lives of foreign correspondents and the complicated questions and issues raised by the very nature of the work they perform.

Directed by ensemble member Austin Pendleton, the story takes place in the Brooklyn loft of recently-injured war photojournalist Sarah Goodwin (Sally Murphy) as she re-adjusts to life in New York City with the help and care of her long-time boyfriend and fellow war correspondent James Dodd (Randall Newsome). She is forced to confront James' desire to settle down, and the surprising new relationship between her friend and editor Richard Ehrlich (Francis Guinan) and his much younger girlfriend, Mandy Bloom (Kristina Valada-Viars). The plot emerges from the tensions between the four characters' contrasting perspectives as their lives intersect in the subsequent days, weeks, and months after Sarah's arrival home.

What I like most about Time Stands Still is how the character interaction, plot, and underlying themes are seamlessly woven together. The play addresses a number of philosophical and ethical issues, and uses the arguments and tensions between characters to explore these concepts in an organic, delicately-balanced way that never feels forced.

Much of this has to do with the sharply-written, but realistic-sounding dialogue. Conversations between characters alternate between witty interactions and dramatic confrontations through jokes made at the expense of others, arguments erupting over past grievances, and the reactions to each other's anecdotes and surprising revelations. As a result, the characters and their relationships feel authentic and convincingly evolve as the play progresses.

Like the name implies, one of the major themes of Time Stand Still is time, and the story cleverly addresses multiple notions of it at once. As linear time passes between scenes, the ravages of past wars and other painful memories remain in photographs, coffee table books, and manuscripts saved on MacBooks, while each of the characters confront the increasing differences between their ideal future lives.

I thought all of the actors were great and fleshed out their characters in a way that made them feel real. I particularly liked the energy Valada-Vairs brought to Mandy, as several of the best scenes are driven by her character's annoyingly bubbly demeanor and strong emotional reactions to ideas the three other characters take for granted. I also liked the elaborately-detailed set design of Sarah's loft, and felt the actors made great use of the space and props to further immerse the audience into their world.

Ultimately, Time Stands Still is an engrossing, thought-provoking, and incredibly well-executed study in how the ways we pursue fulfillment not only define who we are, but also what we choose to preserve in our lives.

Time Stands Still runs Jan. 31-May 19 at Steppenwolf's Upstairs Theatre (1650 N. Halsted St.). Shows run Tuesday-Sunday at 7:30 pm, with Saturday and Sunday matinees at 3 pm. Tickets start at $20. For more information and tickets, call 312-335-1650 or go to www.steppenwolf.org.

Photo Credit: Joel Moorman

 
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