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Theater Review: Nuanced, Soulful Performances The Focus Of Current TheaterWorks Production

By Elizabeth Young, Newtown Bee


NEW MILFORD — TheaterWorks New Milford's main stage production of Time Stands Still is a subtle, moving piece of drama that gives pause as it explores the monumental challenges faced, collateral damage inflicted, and price paid by those who are witness to trauma. This is accomplished with humor, tenderness and urgency.

Staged on a phenomenal apartment set, designed by Scott Wyshynski and Richard Pettibone, the souls of the characters created by David Margulies are laid bare and the nomadic nature of their lives revealed.

Sarah Goodwin, played by Alicia Dempster, has just been released from a long hospital stay after sustaining near fatal injuries following an IED explosion in Iraq. She is a photojournalist who has spent her career in the far reaches of the planet, documenting the most brutal of conditions and events. She is jaded.

In order for her to function in this capacity, she has jettisoned her empathy. She accurately declares "if it wasn't for people like me, with cameras, who would know? Who would care?" Yet in order for her to continue in this line of work, she cannot allow herself to care. This is the essence of her relationship with the world around her following her near-death experience.

She cannot fully connect to her adoring and kind boyfriend/fiancé/husband James, played by Aaron Kaplan, as he assuages his own guilt for not being there in her most crucial hour of need, by nursing her in recovery. In the circumstance of their cohabitation he has found fulfillment and peace. He has come to love "simple, boring, happy," while Sarah rails against domesticity and complacency. Not only does she crave the adrenaline rush, she is compelled to tell the story of the oppressed through her lens. The lens, however, keeps her removed from actually feeling what she is seeing. Except once.

Richard Ehrlich (Will Jeffries), a friend and editor of both Sarah's photos and James' journalism, is devoted and admiring of them as professionals and as a couple. He pushes them to work harder and to get their work to press, yet is deeply moved by their commitment. He fears for Sarah, and understands the need for James to choose a new path.

Meanwhile, Richard is involved in a May-December romance with a lovely girl named Mandy, played by Erin Shaughnessy. She is deep and simple in a good way as she implores both Sarah and James to "feel the joy, otherwise, what's the point?"

This story is played out in such a way that the meaning and message come gradually. There are no jarring revelations; the play is exemplary of playwriting as an art of showing and not telling.

Alicia Dempster plays her Sarah as an aloof, intellectual on a mission from which she will not be deterred. She has a moment of intense reflection on her capacity to make art out of pain, a notion from which she recoils, yet regroups and carries on. Ms Dempster commits fully to this role and gives a moving performance.

As her loyal, patient and humane lover, Aaron Kaplan is exceptional. He is capable of expressing the vast array of emotions his character feels in the betrayal he experiences, the career stagnation he suffers, and his eventual loss and recovery. He is a skilled actor.

Will Jeffries is as relaxed and genuine as an actor can be. He expertly handles his character's humor and sensitivity.

The completely charming Erin Shaughnessy is wonderful as the beautiful young love interest of Richard. She is the voice of reason, which she delivers fearlessly with aplomb.

Under the fine direction of Sonnie Osborne, these actors dig deep to deliver a nuanced yet soulful portrait of people in the eye of a global and domestic storm. It is riveting to watch. "The cameras are there to record life, not to change it," says a defensive Sarah. Yet the camera changes her.

This is an affecting drama which will resonate long after the applause. Don't miss it.

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