We often talk about the theatre as providing a unique lens through which to view something – sometimes a situation, sometimes a moment in time. The corporeal aspect of the living stage means a kinesthetically embodied picture, one that breathes as it moves and engages in dialogue, whether in lines exchanged between characters or a broader, thematic discourse with the audience. Frequently, the lens is focused in a special way, in order to offer a distinctive perspective.
The lens of Time Stands Still, the 2009 play by Pulitzer winner Donald Margulies, is a meta one since it centers on a successful photojournalist. We first meet Sarah (Molly Karrasch), who was injured by a roadside bomb while covering the Iraq War, as she slowly, painfully makes her way into the Brooklyn loft she shares with boyfriend James (Brian Coughlin), a reporter who also covered the war but returned home before Sarah's incident. It's a typical loft setup: open floor plan, a couch center, a small kitchen in one corner, a simple bed in the other. The look of the place is nothing out of the ordinary in Williamsburg, and designer/constructor Mike Toner has infused his set with a verisimilitude that's crucial for contextualizing this play. There's no whimsy here. This is biting reality.
That bite is never more palpable than in Karrasch's stellar performance. The horrors that Sarah has captured in photographs have clearly scarred her emotionally just as the shrapnel has physically. In one particularly gut-wrenching moment, she relates the story of a group of women searching frantically for their children in the rubble of a bombing aftermath. One of the women, she says with still desperation, left a handprint of blood on her camera's lens in a frantic attempt to stop Sarah from photographing the scene. Throughout Karrasch's monologue, the silence in the audience was deafening.
Directed with a sincere finesse by Don Toner, Austin Playhouse's production also features Huck Huckaby as Richard, an editor and friend of the couple's, and Jess Hughes as Mandy, Richard's new girlfriend who provides most of the small doses of comic relief that Margulies can muster among such chilling material.
You won't find a more head-on metaphor for this play than Sarah's bloodstained lens and the handprint of a woman who does not want to be captured in time and place. Margulies, Toner, and this cast deliver that lens sharply focused, snapping a picture that tells a living story for our time.
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