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'Time Stands Still' at TheatreWorks New Milford

By Mary Hembree, Citizen News


I was eager to see Time Stands Still at TheatreWorks New Milford and I wasn't disappointed. Waiting for the show to begin, the unique sounds of Philip Glass' Metamorphosis Four filled the air. A stroke of genius, a musical introduction to the intimate changes you're about to see unfold on the stage.

Time Stands Still is an emotionally charged drama written by David Margulies, a contemporary American playwright, author of numerous plays and screenplays, the recipient of various awards including the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for Dinner with Friends.

The TheatreWorks New Milford production of Time Stands Still is an intelligent, tight drama with four of the best actors I've seen locally in quite some time.

The setting is a loft in Williamsburg, Brooklyn in present time. Sarah Goodwin is a photo journalist who just returned home after being seriously injured in a war zone. She shares her loft with her boyfriend of eight years, James Dodd, a journalist, who has accompanied her home from a hospital in Europe. James suffers deep guilt for leaving Sarah alone and in danger, while he returned to New York to assuage his own tragic experience while covering conflict. They receive a visit from their friend Richard Ehrlich, a photo editor who brings along his new girlfriend, Mandy Bloom, considerably younger than Richard with views of the world not yet jaded.

Sarah is an intelligent woman with a hard demeanor and initially tough to like. She's bristly and quick to anger but in Alicia Dempster's remarkable hands we gradually realize she is masking her real fear, the possibility of being stuck in a conventional life. There's a certain safety behind the camera lens; it's a shield, allowing her to record the world as it is, not as it should be. Sarah is more afraid of domestic life than a war zone.  Alicia Dempster amazes in this role, not only in her delivery but incorporating all the accoutrements of injury into her character – leg brace, sling and facial scars, the demon of any woman. Alicia Dempster makes you feel her pain, physical and emotional. When you think "drama" this is the performance you expect.

James appears to be a love, only wanting to make Sarah comfortable. But gradually we see he too has been wounded, not physically, but deep in his psyche. He's frustrated, angry and damaged by his own war experience, watching people literally blow up in his face. There is much about Aaron Kaplan's performance that I love but he grabbed my heart explaining to Sarah he was aware of her betrayal. He makes James real – funny, irritating and vulnerable. Aaron Kaplan's portrayal of James is an artistic delight.

Will Jeffries is an experienced performer whose comfort on the stage is evident. As Richard Erhlich, he brings the art of facial expressions to a new height, giving us the annoyingly joyous aura of an older man loved by a much younger woman. But then he convincingly squirms when Mandy's naiveté is laid bare before his friends.  There's an avuncular essence to the character that Will Jeffries captures perfectly and you realize you wouldn't mind having him for a friend. He's a natural on the stage and his performance is top notch.

Mandy Bloom is generations apart and not just from Richard. Although her innocence provokes a chuckle, she is sensitive to the present day and we soon realize she knows who she is and what she wants. Erin Shaughnessy captures the girl Mandy is completely, delivering the sometimes trite lines at just the right level to invoke a laugh, but keeping it genuine, not ditzy. Without speaking she displays her discomfort finding herself at the mercy of Sarah's tongue or Richard's uneasiness. The best part of Erin Shaughnessy's performance is the clever way she delivers this role showing us Mandy's metamorphosis into a woman, wife and mother.

Eliciting the emotions and range that flow throughout this play requires a creative and generous director at the helm. These four actors have clearly benefitted from the talented guidance of Sonnie Osborne.

The set is a marvel. The loft is so well appointed I'd rent it. Scott Wyshynski and Richard Pettibone have once again outdone themselves in set design. The I-beam of steel and the sliding barn door alone just wowed me. And as usual, the lighting was perfect.

Kudos to Joseph Russo for his authentic make-up.  Sarah's scars made me wince.

As the press release stated, "Time Stands Still" will inspire much discussion well after the curtain comes down." I left the theater pondering "what is this play about?" It would be blithe to say it's about journalists, for those are merely the occupations of Sarah and James. Although Sarah is committed to capturing on film the world she sees around her, she doesn't have an answer for Mandy, who vehemently points out - there is much that is beautiful in the world, why not focus on that? The play leaves that question unanswered. As Donald Margulies stated, this is not a political play. It's about choices and compromises we make in relationships. This cast, under the direction of Sonnie Osborne, has done a mesmerizing job delivering the sense of loss, the dull ache that comes in ending a relationship.

Drama is what brought me to the theater oh so many years ago. The TheatreWorks New Milford production of Time Stands Still is drama, pure and beautifully rendered.

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