We commonly associate warfare PTSD with persons in uniform and secondarily with civilian collateral damage. Donald Margulies’s Time Stands Still considers the impact of the affliction on another class: the war correspondent, via two journalists who are romantic partners and have returned to civilian life. Sarah (Ivy Vahanian) is a war photographer who has come home from Iraq to convalesce after nearly losing her life in a roadside bombing. SheJames (Bill Egan) is a writer who has been back for months following a psychological breakdown. As one would expect, taking the journalist out of the war does not take the war out of the journalist, and much of the drama involves flare-ups between these two inwardly broken people.
Complicating the mix is Richard (Thom Zimerle), the couple’s editor who, while mustering requisite sympathy for the wounded Sarah, is pushing to publish a book that will exploit the fearless photographer’s most recent cache of images. At the same time, he introduces them to his new love interest, Mandy (Janelle Odair), a woman half his age who is sweetly simple and naïve. Margulies mines a great deal of tension from the antipodes of these two women: Sarah is cynical, scarred, world-weary; Mandy is upbeat, unblemished, all puppies-and-kittens innocence. But more, the playwright skillfully leads us to underestimate Mandy, only to give her the last word in several key exchanges. With guileless vision, she alone can ask the most penetrating questions.
High-voltage encounters not only display admirable acting chops but also underscore the gravity this material wields for director Peter Frisch and these players. Are journalists who put themselves in harm’s way selfless public servants or adrenaline addicts? And for those of us who close the magazine, are we emotionally skillful or selfishly escapist?