"Time Stands Still" -- ★ ★ ★ ★
Watching Buffalo Theatre Ensemble's bracing revival of "Time Stands Still," a couple of things struck me. The first was that I wouldn't mind living in set designer Michael W. Moon's casually chic Brooklyn loft that lovers Sarah and Jamie call home.
The second was about how fine the acting is in director Connie Canady Howard's production of Donald Margulies' play, about a pair of Iraq War correspondents, one of whom suffers a near-fatal injury that prompts both to reevaluate their professional and personal lives.
Howard has assembled an impressive quartet in Lisa Dawn, Brad Lawrence, Kurt Naebig and Amanda Raudabaugh. Their performances deliver such emotional complexity and authenticity that they pulled me to the edge of my seat and left me transfixed.
Dawn plays 40-something photojournalist Sarah Goodwin, who has spent most of her adult life traveling around the world to war zones documenting an endless succession of humanitarian crises for a weekly newsmagazine. For the last eight years, she's been accompanied by writer James Dodd (Lawrence), with whom she's forged a professional and romantic partnership.
Observing war, genocide and famine through her camera lens allows Sarah to maintain a distance between herself and the subjects of her shocking, often gruesome photographs. Defending her profession against those who wonder why she photographs suffering when she might do something to help alleviate it, she insists she's doing her job, gathering evidence.
"The camera was there to record life, not change it," she insists, even as she acknowledges that she lives "off the suffering of strangers."
As the play opens, Sarah and Jamie are returning home to Brooklyn. She's been injured by a roadside bomb that killed her interpreter. Hospitalized for several weeks in Germany, she is back in the U.S., shellshocked, scarred and hurting both physically and emotionally.
"What happens now?" she asks.
"We put you back together again," says the traumatized Jamie, who has wounds of his own that need repairing, including the guilt he carries for leaving Sarah in Iraq just before the bombing.
As they are settling in to the safety and comfort of quotidian life, they receive a visit from Sarah's longtime editor and onetime lover Richard, played by BTE ensemble member Naebig. He's accompanied by his much-younger, newly pregnant girlfriend Mandy (Raudabaugh), an event planner whom Sarah describes as "embryonic" behind her back.
Delighting in Mandy's cheerfulness and unapologetic about the affair, Richard responds to his friends' gentle mocking by admitting he wants "something simple for a change."
He isn't the only one. Intrigued by Richard's suggestion, they collaborate on a book, Jamie proposes to Sarah that they give up globe-trotting and settle down in Brooklyn.
"I don't need to dodge bullets to feel alive anymore," he says.
To reveal more would spoil the play, which also touches (briefly) on the role of journalists and how pop culture desensitizes people toward violence. But for all that, "Time Stands Still" is, at its core, about relationships: those that move forward and those that remain fixed.
Margulies' keen dialogue and his nicely crafted characters are well-served by Howard's crisp, no-nonsense direction and her ensemble's nuanced performances.
As Mandy, the refreshing Raudabaugh brings depth to a character wiser and more substantive than she appears. Naebig plays Richard with a wry affection that reveals not a middle-aged stereotype in the throes of a midlife crisis, but a man in love for the first time.
Lawrence's powerfully felt and at times blistering performance is a striking portrait of a conflicted man. Terrified of losing his partner and determined to keep her safe, he's also resentful of her fame.
Dawn's nicely muted emotions serve well the understandably peevish Sarah, whose evolution from victim to survivor feels authentic. Dawn's performance is honest and self-aware. Her Sarah -- fixed like the image she captures on film -- knows who she is and what she needs.
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Location: Buffalo Theatre Ensemble at the McAninch Arts Center, College of DuPage, 425 Fawell Blvd., Glen Ellyn, (630) 942-4000 or atthemac.org
Showtimes: 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday; 3 p.m. Sunday through March 4. Feb. 8 and 9 performances canceled because of severe weather predictions; ticket holders can reschedule by calling the box office.
Running time: Two hours, including intermission
Parking: Free parking in lot adjacent to McAninch Arts Center
Rating: For adults, contains mature subject matter and language