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Review: PURE's Time Stands Still depicts a harsh readjustment period

Time Warp

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The photographer lives in a constant struggle between connection with the world and detachment from it, as the tool of her trade offers a window — but an unopenable one — onto humanity's deepest joys and tragedies.

PURE Theatre's production of Time Stands Still, by Pulitzer-winning playwright Donald Margulies, makes rich use of this conflict and its effects on two journalists: Sarah, a photojournalist returning home after a near-fatal accident in Iraq, and Jamie, a writer who covered war zones with Sarah until suffering a recent nervous breakdown. When the couple returns home to Brooklyn, they are confronted with the possibility of creating a different sort of life, one with no room for roadside bombs and endless famines.

As Sarah and Jamie explore their connection to the world and to each other, they are regularly visited by their friend and editor, Richard Ehrlich, and his new, much-younger girlfriend Mandy. Richard and Mandy — oddly enough, considering their major age difference — offer a glimpse into that "normal" world that Sarah and Jamie have so little experience with, and the happiness that they might, if they try hard enough, make theirs as well.

PURE's four-person cast is outstanding, with a strong chemistry that must be born of mutual trust. Mark Landis' Ehrlich is paternal and generous, evincing both his love for Sarah and Jamie and his inability to understand what drives them. Mandy, played beautifully by Katie Smith, is a perfect foil for Sharon Graci's Sarah: guileless, vulnerable, and open-hearted.

David Mandel gives a moving performance as Jamie, who, as the play unfolds, opens himself more and more to Sarah, in a way that we can tell he has never allowed himself to do before. Mandel is skilled at letting Jamie's hard shell crack gradually, naturally, as he tentatively presents the ideas of a safer, stay-at-home life to the wounded Sarah.

But in this truly excellent cast, Sharon Graci's portrayal of Sarah is the real standout. Graci is utterly convincing as the dedicated photojournalist who sometimes tries, but more often fails to hide her condescension when it comes to other people's humdrum lives. Sarah's unintended callousness toward the man she loves is heartbreaking, but we wouldn't expect anything else of her. When she does try to make him happy, we see clearly that inability to connect, and the need to look at life through a lens, that is both Sarah's gift and her curse. And when the camera appears in the closing scene — its single on-stage appearance — the moment is profound in its economy.

Time Stands Still, like most PURE Theater productions, is not to be missed.

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