An uncomfortable truth is that there are people who are energized by war, tragedy and horror. They are drawn like magnets to places where carnage is unfolding.
"Time Stands Still," a wonderful new play by Pulitzer Prize winner Donald Margulies, centers on two people who fit that category a photojournalist and her longtime reporter boyfriend who have trouble adjusting to life in New York after returning from covering the war in Iraq.
Sierra Repertory Theatre's production, which opened Friday, might be the best play in the region this year. It's remarkably relevant with characters who talk and think like people you know today. Under Scott Gilbert's direction, all four actors deliver spot-on authentic performances. Dennis Jones' set is gorgeous a detailed Brooklyn apartment with art, books, a kitchen and a stunning bedroom.
The play premièred in 2009 in Los Angeles and moved to Broadway the next year with a cast that included Laura Linney and Alicia Silverstone. It received a Tony Award nomination for best play. Sierra Rep has rated it R for strong language.
The show opens with Sarah Goodwin (Stasha Surdyke) returning home from the Middle East after barely surviving a roadside bomb. She is severely injured and is being cared for by her reporter boyfriend, James Dodd (Joe Gately), who is nursing his own emotional wounds from the battlefield.
The couple is visited by their good friend, photo editor Richard (Ty Smith), who surprises them by bringing along his much younger girlfriend, Mandy (Lindsey Graham). She is the opposite of the journalists in every way optimistic, sunny and focused on the good things in life.
The journalists at first dismiss Mandy as a shallow lightweight, but she soon causes them to seriously reflect on their choices. What follows are insightful discussions on the media: Is it informing the public or just feeding on misery? Should journalists get involved with the suffering people they write about or just report on their plight?
Meanwhile, Sarah and James have personal issues to deal with. After eight years in the relationship, James is starting to feel the urge to get married and have children.
Through all this angst, the show never becomes a dreary slog through painful emotions. There's lots of humor mixed in. One of the funniest scenes is when Richard reacts to his friends' less than approving attitude about his new girlfriend.
Surdyke is the star of the show because of her fiery personality. Her Sarah can be brash and blunt but also tender and loving. Gately's James is conflicted over his love for Sarah and his desire for a simple adventure-free life with home-cooked meals and Netflix. Graham shows that Mandy has a lot more depth than her friendly demeanor and pretty appearance might suggest. Smith's Richard seems to be the most balanced character with an appreciation and respect for the dark and beautiful sides of life.
Middle Eastern music played during scene changes gives the production an exotic feel. Christopher Van Tuyl contributes a cool lighting effect by having scenes end with a flash as if a camera flashbulb just went off.
Sierra Rep, the only professional theater company in the region, is at its best with this thoughtful production. Do yourself a favor and make the drive up to Sonora to see this top-quality play.
Bee arts writer Lisa Millegan Renner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2313.
'Time Stands Still'
WHERE: Sierra Repertory Theatre, 13891 Mono Way, Sonora
WHEN: Through Oct. 28. 7 p.m. Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays and Wednesdays, and 7 p.m. Thursdays
RUNNING TIME: 2 hours 15 minutes, including an intermission
INFORMATION: (209) 532-3120 or www.sierrarep.org
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