“Time Stands Still” – Actors Theatre


Actors Theatre, Stage West, Herberger Theater Center
Phoenix, AZ

Donald Margulies powerful “Time Stands Still” is delivered by Actors Theatre in an impressive production that closes their current season.  The Tony Award-nominated play explores the lives of two very different couples.  Changes in the relationships of the couples are stimulated by evolutionary developments of one couple who were impacted by their Iraqi War coverage, while the other couple looks at a man’s midlife crisis that result in a marriage to his hot girlfriend and an unexpected baby.

The play focuses on war photographer Sarah and war observer and writer James, long time partnered but stimulated to marry only to have the nuptials shatter their relationship as realities mix things up.  Sarah is recovering, as the play begins, after a roadside bomb caused her near death and an agonizingly slow recovery.  James was shattered seeing the war’s devastation and destruction but he returned home before Sarah’s experience.  The other couple pits Richard, Sarah’s photo editor, with his girlfriend Mandy.

The play explores how the two couples change and how shifts in each relationship are caused not only by situations they confront but also by their own decisions and reactions.  The playwright doesn’t explain every shift but each is often unexpected as it forces dynamic changes in the relationships.

Sarah points at James suggesting her travails are more serious, straining their already troubled relationship.  Their marriage complicates things and resolves nothing.  Margulies creates a fascinating dynamic between the two so you wonder where this relationship will go.  At the intermission, you may decide you know where things are headed only to have major truths emerge that dramatically change, form, mold, and force the relationship to go in unexpected directions.  Both characters’ past influence the way each chooses to move forward.

Richard suddenly seems henpecked by Mandy who is more enamored of their baby.  All the characters have a variety of traits that make them fascinating and the playwright allows slow bits of discovery throughout the play so you keep understanding better where and why each character does what they do as the environment evolves.  To reveal more plot details would spoil the play and Margulies’ revealing insight to each character.

Matthew Wiener stages the play well so the twists and turns startle forcing audiences to pay attention and not tune out.  You must focus on the two relationships because missing any tidbit could badly color your impression as you could careen down a very wrong road.  The way Margulies has written “Time Stands Still” coupled with Wiener’s insightful direction keeps the play revelatory every minute.

The actors deliver complicated characterizations that shift and change constantly.  Rusty Ferracane gives great insight into James, his background, and the reasons he responds how he does.  He’s cautious of Sarah but is easily riled and that takes him to places never expected.  Anne Marie Falvey seems to struggle with Sarah’s complexity initially and at the intermission you’ll wonder if she’s the play’s weak link.  In the second act, as Sarah becomes clearer, Falvey’s character seems better defined as Sarah’s past influences boil to the surface.  Ben Tyler’s Richard is the typical middle-ager, determined to remain vibrant and with it but, when confronted with a new family so late in his life, he shifts subtly in his relationship and reaction to Mandy.  The wacky, off-the-cuff Mandy is thoroughly enjoyable in Kerry McCue’s bright and seemingly superficial characterization but we discover through McCue’s performance that Mandy has more depth than we originally are led to believe.

“Time Stands Still” is a fascinating play presented in an always changing production.  It continues through May 27.

Grade: A