Sunday, August 18, 2013

TIME STANDS STILL • Insight Theatre Company

Insight Theatre continues its season with a thoughtful character study of sorts by Pulitzer Prize winning playwright, Donald MarguliesA couple of his plays that I've seen before ("Collected Stories" and "Dinner with Friends") seem to drop the audience into the everyday lives of everyday folks who are on the edge of transition, with gratifying observations about how the characters evolve and are changed during the passage of time.  This captivating production is no exception under John Contini's refined direction.

The play starts with James (Chad Morris) attentively escorting Sarah (Jenni Ryan), his partner of eight years, into their Brooklyn loft.  She's a photojournalist returning to the states with a splintered leg, an arm in a sling and shrapnel scars she suffered from a roadside bomb while covering the war in Iraq.  James, a reporter, was there too, but had a breakdown and left before her accident -- having to go into therapy to work through the horrors he witnessed.

Jenni Ryan (Sarah) and Chad Morris (James).
Photo credit: John Lamb
During their acclimation to each other after being separated for months, both subtly nursing resentment and guilt, they have company.  Sarah's photo editor, Richard (Jerry Vogel), stops by with his new girlfriend, a young, frothy event planner named Mandy (Julia Crump).  The “Welcome Home” and “Get Well Soon” balloons Mandy's brought don't do much to lighten the tension in the room.  She says "Oh, wow" a lot and is a little on the chipper side for Sarah's taste, but it's clear that she cares for Richard, and Richard is truly happy with her, even though Sarah and James kid him about going through a midlife crisis.

Shaken by one of Sarah's photographs, Mandy questions why Sarah would voluntarily make herself a silent accomplice to the suffering of others rather than choosing to do something to help those she photographs, but Sarah insists that her pictures, no matter how unsettling, are helping by raising awareness of the events she documents.  Sarah, whose photographs decorate the apartment, is a pro, and she and James have been living dangerously under a constant threat of death for years.  Her profession has necessitated a detached approach to her work, and her emotional walls are thick -- difficult to break down even in her personal life.  Mandy's question is the catalyst that highlights a growing fissure between Sarah and James, and this gap is agitated by revelations that come to light, and how they choose to deal with the strain that their shell-shock has had on their relationship.

Jenni Ryan (Sarah), Julia Crump (Mandy)
and Jerry Vogel (Richard).
Photo credit: John Lamb
Ryan is excellent as the hardened Sarah, delivering her lines with sarcastic humor, a chilly disconnection, and an impactful account of how she deadens herself to everything outside of her camera's viewfinder.  Morris inhabits James comfortably as a man still healing from his psychological bruises, pursuing different interests and forming new priorities.  Vogel brings Richard to life as a good-natured friend, joyous with his new outlook on the world but ready to intervene when the well-intended Mandy is in danger of making a blunder.  Crump was delightful as Mandy, taking notes for later research about anything pre-90's.  She also convincingly comes into her own in her confrontations with Sarah, James, and even Richard.

Scenic designer Mark Wilson's good-looking, realistically detailed set includes a bedroom area, living room, dining area and kitchen, and features four tall windows adorned with a row of Sarah's black and white photographs.  Kathleen San Roman's lighting design evocatively illuminates the windows and complements the set and action beautifully.  Bryce Dale Allen dotted the production with natural, understated sound design and perfectly fitting transitional music, while Michele Sansone nicely costumed the actors.

Jenni Ryan (Sarah) and Chad Morris (James).
Photo credit: John Lamb
One of the first things I wrote down when I saw this was, "desensitization vs. catharsis" -- a distinction brought up early on, and for me, the question of which is which serves as a springboard for the different roads each character ends up taking.  It's an engaging play, admirably staged, running until the 25th.  Check it out.  There's a cool clip of the Broadway production here.


TIME STANDS STILL

Written by Donald Margulies
Directed by John Contini
Heagney Theatre at Nerinx Hall, 530 East Lockwood Ave.
through August 25 | tickets: $25 - $30
Performances Thursday to Saturday at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm

Cast:
Jenni Ryan (Sarah), Chad Morris (James), Julia Crump (Mandy) and Jerry Vogel* (Richard).
* Member Actors' Equity Association

Creative:
Scenic design by Mark Wilson; lighting design by Kathleen San Roman; sound design by Bryce Dale Allen; costume design by Michele Sansone; stage manager, Terry Lee.

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