In Pulitzer Prize-winner Donald Margulies’ play Time Stands Still, we see a transfixing slice of the home life of two photojournalists who specialize in covering war and other horrors. Snipers, roadside bombs and grim atrocities are their daily fare, and they seem to thrive on the adrenaline.
Peter Frisch heads The Producing Unit, the recently launched production company whose inaugural offering last year at Center Stage Theater, God of Carnage, was highly acclaimed. Under his fine direction, Time Stands Still explores the multifaceted character of human nature and illuminates our also human tendency to judge based on appearances.
As Sarah, the injured photog chafing with frustration at her physical limitations and eager to get back to the front lines, Ivy Vahanian is superb. She inhabits this complex character with an authenticity so deep and primal, it’s easy to forget she’s acting. Sarah’s eventual softening is all the more dramatic for how hard she’s been up until then.
Hopefully there will be more soon from this relative newcomer to the Santa Barbara theater community.
Bill Egan portrays James, Sarah’s longtime lover. He is solid as the partner who shares her passion but is perhaps not made of the same stuff as she. We see the depth of his love for her and the struggle he feels between the two worlds — excitement and contentment.
Janelle Odair sparkles as Mandy, the much-younger girlfriend of Sarah and James’ old friend and editor, Richard. Odair starts out as a nearly cringe-inducing ditz, but as the plot unfolds, she shows character definition and development that is impressive work by both playwright and actor.
Thom Zimerle rounds out the cast and does a nice job of walking the line between Richard’s obvious smittenness with his fresh new love and sheepishness at displaying it in front of his old friends.
The horrific realities that Sarah and James have seen in their line of work are never literally shown, but there is enough description in the dialogue that we can’t help but see these images clearly before our eyes. And we can’t help but feel deep sorrow and compassion for these people who have lived through it, and for the haunting regret and doubt they feel about their actions, or lack thereof, in the face of such conditions.
Despite the serious and heartwrenching subject matter, there are a surprising number of laughs, often of the dark-humor variety.
Time Stands Still doesn’t provide any easy answers, but it does allow us a look into the lives of those we may never even have considered, and in doing so, give us a clearer view of our own humanity.
Time Stands Still finishes its run this Thursday through Saturday at Center Stage Theater. Tickets available by clicking here.
— Justine Sutton is a Santa Barbara freelance writer and frequent Noozhawk reviewer. The opinions expressed are her own.