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Time Stands Still Shows Us a Postwar Mid-life Crisis

The setup:

Playwright Donald Margulies was awarded the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for his play Dinner with Friends, which garnered a host of other awards and nominations as well. His latest offering, Time Stands Still, which opened in Manhattan in 2010, received highly favorable reviews and a Tony nomination as Best Play.

The execution:

Fortyish photo-journalist Sarah Goodwin (Sara Gaston) is recuperating at home in a loft in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, with a lacerated face and a badly wounded leg, after six weeks in the hospital, the first two of them unconscious. She had been wounded on assignment in a war zone, the same one from which her lover of eight years, James Dodd (Sean Patrick Judge), a journalist, had fled after suffering a nervous breakdown. They live together; Dodd is solicitous, and Goodwin is bristly.

Check out our interview with director Steve Garfinkel.

They are visited by an old friend, and a contemporary in age, Richard Ehrlich (Jack Young), photo editor for a magazine, who it develops had a fling with Goodwin two decades earlier. (This is not a spoiler, as this fact is just added for juice, and is irrelevant to the play.) Ehrlich brings along his new amour, Mandy Bloom (Lisa Villegas), an attractive girl half his age.

The acting of all is exemplary, so appreciation of the characters reflects the writing of Margulies. Gaston finds the spunk, determination, and courage of Goodwin, as well as her sardonic wit, and creates a memorable, authentic portrait, and one that can be admired. Villegas brings the desired looks, energy and naivete to Bloom, and lets you see her self-confidence even in conversations well over her head.

Young pulls off the difficult assignment of persuading us that a middle-aged professional, an editor used to making wise decisions, will determine that his life course is best served by sharing it with a young girl. And Judge shows us Dodd's caring concern for Goodwin, though handicapped by a script which has him whine about her success. I especially liked Judge when the script gave him something to work with - quizzing Goodwin about a war-zone male associate, or his final scene, when he is permitted to display love and appreciation for another.

The work is well-directed by Steve Garfinkel, who kept the pace alive and the scene changes brisk, though I remain puzzled why Dodd drinks Scotch directly from a bottle. The set design is by the gifted Jodi Bobrovsky, and properties are by Rodney Walsworth, and they seemed downscale to me, but I gather that may be what the playwright intended.

As in many contemporary plays, a mid-life crisis emerges, affecting Goodwin and Dodd - their relationship is the heart of the play. The stakes here are what happens to them, and this is only moderately involving, as what we have is a middle-aged couple reasonably comfortable with each other; this is not Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra setting the heavens on fire.

Margulies gives us some meat to chew on: should journalists just record events, or is there a moral need to intervene? What can we do to stop or help alleviate the horrors of war? These are hors d'oeuvres, to whet our intellectual appetite for important issues. And Margulies wraps things up in the final scene, so we know what life will be like for these four characters, at least in the next few years.

The verdict: A low-key domestic drama touches on some issues of war, without really exploring them, as delivered by four characters working out their own emotional and personal needs.

Time Stands Still continues through April 19, from Main Street Theater - Rice Village, 2540 Times Blvd. For information or ticketing, call 713-524-6706 or contact www.mainstreettheater.com.

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