The K-State Theater production of “Time Stands Still” runs through next weekend in Nichols Theater. It is a solid, telling staging of this recent play by Pulitzer winner Donald Margulies, well-cast and readied by director Dwight Tolar and well-acted, set (by the dependable Kathy Voecks), dressed, and lit.
One of the strong technical features of the show is the make-up. BeckiJo Neill plays Sarah, a news photographer who has been badly scarred by a roadside bomb. The scars seem to rise from her skin, giving the viewer a shiver of recognition. And it is necessary to the play that we sympathize with this character because of her injuries. Not everything about her is likable.
The action begins with Sarah’s return to her apartment, coming from a German hospital and, eventually, up to her “loft” on a pair of crutches, her right knee in a black brace. She is accompanied by her long-time companion James (Kyle Myers, who local theater-goers will remember as Hamlet in a recent K-State Theater production).
We discover that the two of them had been in the war zone together. But a couple of weeks before Sarah’s injury, James saw a group of women killed in a different sort of attack, and this incident made him feel he had to get away from the conflict. He returned to the U.S.
Sarah’s correspondence with him—as the action takes place in 2006, one assumes it was e-mail correspondence—suggests that she became involved sexually with her interpreter. Tariq, then, died when the roadside bomb went off. Sarah seems to admit to having fallen in love with him.
Now back in the U.S., she is healing up, but to what end? James seems to have lost all his drive to report from the scenes of violent international trouble. Instead of writing about those horrors, he has begun writing about horror movies. Will the couple settle into a quieter life?
Her old boss (and former lover) Richard (Mathew Ellis) is apparently happy in his own new domesticity with younger, less-sophisticated Mandy (Hannah Miller). But he offers Sarah chances to take news photos, getting her back into the business a little at a time. And he presses for James to finish the text for a coffee table book reproducing pictures Sarah took in the third world before the bombing.
The script’s seven scenes are marred by sharp, under-prepared changes. In some ways the script feels like a version of Tom Stoppard’s “The Real Thing,” only with the action reversed, so that the discussion of the second romance occurs early and its relationship to the characters’ writing is saved for later discussion.
I’m not sure Margulies, who can give his characters lines like “These things happen” and “We put our lives on the line” has been thinking much about Stoppard’s comparison of good writing to a cricket bat.
Actually the most surprising thing about “Time Stands Still” is how much it exists on its own surface. There are no puzzles here, no ambiguity. But it is also true that the play dismisses Topics as artistic subjects. The year of the action has to be established because we move on, on to other global concerns and other details of daily life.
And yet the interaction of the characters points up some timeless forms of concern. Couples will clash about degrees of fidelity, about mutual respect, about conventionality and duty and about what moves them individually. A kiss is still a kiss. The fundamental things apply.
So this Laura Linney vehicle—she plays Sarah, and in early productions Alicia Silverstone played Mandy—is enjoying a good, accessible, brisk production on the K-State campus. “Time Stands Still” is a frank play, in surprising ways a thoughtful play, and this is a production I think will entertain lots of locals once they find their way to it.