"Time Stands Still" (Steppenwolf Theatre): Not Quite Picture Perfect!

"Time Stands Still" (Steppenwolf Theatre):  Not Quite Picture Perfect!

#20.  A starving child and vulture photograph has haunted me for 25+ years.  The photographer captured a startling image.  The bird was waiting for the kid to die.  The prize-winning picture was truly thought-provoking.  It illustrated severe hunger in far corners of the earth. The powerful imagery also made people question if a vulture took the picture.

Steppenwolf Theatre presents TIME STANDS STILL.  Sarah is a photojournalist.  James is a reporter.  The couple are war-junkies.  They capture history in action.  It’s their job.  Sarah returns home after barely surviving a bombing. Her injuries are severe. James is also recovering from a horrifying incident.  They both need time to heal.  Richard is their editor and friend.  He encourages them to try living simpler.  He is! To escape intensity, he has dropped his intellectual girlfriend for an event planner.  And Mandy is much younger than he is.  Is the job worth their lives?  Can they live without the drama? TIME STANDS STILL changes lenses to see what is really important.

Playwright Donald Margulies has imagined the relational conflict for frontline journalists.  Margulies puts active people into a homebound situation and forces them to redefine themselves.  Under the direction of Austin Pendleton, the situation definitely feels forced.  It also seems stilted.  Conversations feel rehearsed.  A few times, during pivotal dialogue, non-speaking characters are milling around in the background like they’re bored.  A spirited Kristina Valada-Viars (Mandy) announces she needs to be doing something.  I’m with her.  The show makes me restless too.  I want to be doing something.  To be feeling something.  I could wander around Scenic Designer Walter Spangler’s perfect New York loft.  It looks like the real thing.  Piles of books, framed pictures and African art.  There is a natural arty clutter to it.  I could live there but visiting is a struggle.

Sally Murphy (Sarah) seems miscast.  I’ve said this before about Murphy and it’s certainly a compliment to her genes and skin regimen.  When age disparity needs to stand out, Murphy doesn’t look old enough to make the point.  There isn’t a strong contrast between her and Valada-Viars.  Murphy seems mismatched with Randall Newsome (James) too.  They don’t go together so I don’t invest myself into their relationship drama.  The standout for me is Francis Guinan (Richard).  Guinan is believable in his role.  In fact, I’ve never heard a man explain more convincingly why a younger lover is ideal. Truly thought-provoking!

TIME STANDS STILL isn’t so much capturing life in a moment.  It’s more like a play that poses for the camera.  This snapshot isn’t quite picture perfect.

My last minute sub, Dick describes it with ‘beautiful prop cake.’

Production photograph courtesy of Michael Brosilow.

Running Time:  Two hours and ten minutes includes an intermission

At Steppenwolf Upstairs Theatre, 1650 N. Halsted

Written by Donald Margulies

Directed by Austin Pendleton

Tuesdays through Sundays at 7:30pm

Saturdays and Sundays at 3pm

Thru May 13th

Buy Tickets at www.steppenwolf.org



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