Troubled love

Time Stands Still for photojournalist and a war correspondent

By Alec Clayton on May 14, 2015

The wartime love story Time Stands Still by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Donald Margulies, is now playing at Harlequin Productions in Olympia. It is an intense and intimate portrait of a pair of lovers - Sarah Goodwin (Jenny Vaughn Hall) and James Dodd (Matt Shimkus) - whose passionate devotion and equally passionate conflicts are exacerbated by their friend Richard Ehrich (Steve Manning) and his girlfriend, Mandy Bloom (Helen Harvester).

The show takes place entirely within the Brooklyn apartment Sarah and James share. Beautifully designed by Linda Whitney, the apartment appears to be a loft in possibly a former industrial building with a giant arched window looking out over the city. The dim city scene seen through the window is a video projection by Marko Bujeaud. The furnishings appear typical for people who spend little time at home.

Sarah is a photojournalist home from Iraq, where she was almost killed in a bomb explosion and spent time in a coma. In the opening scene, she hobbles into the apartment on crutches wearing a large cast on one leg and with scars on her face. She adamantly refuses help from James, who hovers protectively. In successive scenes, we see her with smaller and smaller casts and finally only a knee brace as her leg injury slowly heals. The heavy scarring on her face never heals.

Both Sarah and James are living with post-traumatic stress. She does not want to admit it.

What she wants more than anything is to heal enough to go back to the war, where she feels her work gives her meaning. James, a war correspondent, was so emotionally scarred by his tour of Iraq that he had to get out, only to go back to help Sarah when she was wounded. Now he wants to marry Sarah, have children and work on safer writing assignments such as celebrity profiles. He accuses Sarah of being addicted to the adrenaline rush of war.

Richard is Sarah's photo editor. He wants them to collaborate on a photo book about their adventures in the war. Richard's new girlfriend, Mandy, is 20 years his junior and is seen at first by Sarah and James as empty-headed arm candy, but proves to be much deeper than they first supposed.

The conflicts between these four friends are monumental, intense and in your face. Their arguments are emotional explosions analogous to what we can only imagine they went through in Iraq. Thankfully, there is also a lot of comic relief with smart and witty dialogue, and the love between the two couples is palpable.

All four cast members are excellent. Hall plays Sarah with controlled intensity and seems ready to explode throughout the play. Harvester transitions seamlessly from playful and goofy to deep burning anger. Manning is solid and down-to-earth, sometimes gruff but mostly walking on eggshells in the face of the others' explosiveness. Shimkus particularly impressed me with his eye-rolling and smirking reactions to the other three. His performance is award worthy.

I liked the city scene out the window, but when the projected images change for dramatic effect, the changes are mostly ineffectual, with the exception of two scenes of war when Sarah describes a particularly horrible event.

The final scene is something of an extended denouement that trickles to an expected end. I wish the playwright had been able to find some more dramatic way to wrap it up. Nevertheless, Time Stands Still is a powerful drama of love and domestic strife on par with such classics as Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf. I highly recommend it.

TIME STANDS STILL, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through May 30, State Theater, 202 E. 4th Ave., Olympia. 360.786.0151,