‘Time Stands Still”, which is the fourth and final offering at Princeton Summer Theater for the season, is a work that relies more on characters than plot. In fact, we are more concerned with what the characters think than what they actually do.
When the play first opened on the West Coast, written by Tony Award winner Donald Margulies, the Los Angeles Times declared it “compelling if at times elusive.” The current production — beautifully acted by a cast of four and handsomely mounted and directed by Emma Watt — pretty much confirms that uncomfortable word “elusive.”
Set in Brooklyn, we meet Sarah (modern day so no last names). She is a photo journalist who has been badly wounded by a roadside car bomb in Iraq. We also meet her longtime boyfriend (nine years), a reporter named James. He, it turns out, is pummeled by guilt: he returned to the states before Sarah, leaving her to face her injuries alone.
And shortly we will meet James’s best friend, his editor, Richard, who comes with a much younger girlfriend, Mandy. And Mandy is young enough to say whatever comes to her undisciplined mind. In the process she provides much of the conflict and much of the humor of the evening.
It has been an exciting summer at Murray Theater, and a lot of that excitement has come from watching a small but extremely talented group of actors develop from a musical, to a spoof, and now to a modern drama — shows that have demanded depth and variety.
In this latest offering, watch Maeve Brady, as Sarah, as she captures every bit of pain and courage in the role, then “heals” over the two acts, not only physically but mentally as well.
Brad Wilson, playing James, has an easier role since the playwright has given him anger to accompany his guilt. He is therefore free to vent as well as ponder. Evan Thompson, who has been playing strong, confident characters all summer, here plays Richard as solid, principled, and with emotions carefully under control. And he does it without being boring. Sarah Paton clearly enjoys the role of Mandy and finds plenty of humor, coupled with a welcome innocence.
Set designer Jeffrey Van Velsor has created a somewhat luxurious Brooklyn apartment. And director Watt in a program note suggests that the playwright has given us “glimpses of the concrete details of his characters’ lives — the difficulty of getting to the bathroom on crutches, the guilt pleasure of truly awful horror movies, the mixture of amusement, and outrage at a friend’s new girlfriend.” But he has never quite defined his questions, nor suggested satisfactory answers. And no matter how cleverly director Watt has created real tension in the onstage relationships, we are left with that single word — elusive.
“Time Stands Still,” Murray Theater on the Princeton University campus, Thursday to Sunday, August 8 to 11. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 8 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m. $20-$25. 609-258-7062 or www.princeton.edu/~pst.