City Theatre has started its new season with a remarkably well-written, well-developed thoroughly thought-provoking play. It’s Time Stands Still by Donald Margulies. He won a Pulitzer Prize for Dinner With Friends seen here in 2002 produced by Pittsburgh Public Theater. Both, intensely focused on just a few people, offer well-developed characters whose intelligent, articulate, natural dialogue goes beneath the surface, deep into what they feel. The totally convincing acting by the City Theatre cast and Tracey Brigden’s insightful direction make this throb on many intense levels, provoking you during the performance and after to ponder where it has all gone and why.
The primary focus is on a journalist-couple, Sarah, a photographer and James, a reporter. Both have looked closely into the bloody, shattered faces of war. And, at the core of their existence, lies the question of how, being so close to death, they can live with what they’ve seen and try to live with each other with their shared, haunted memories. They also share their feelings and thoughts with close friend and editor Richard and with Mandy, Richard’s much younger, less sophisticated girlfriend.
The relationship between Sarah and James evolves before your eyes while Mandy’s personality develops in new, surprising ways. Margulies writes far more than essential dialogue; the character development continually engages you, wondering what these people might do or say next and where they will go inside the play’s frame or outside in the rest of the world. Moreover, beneath what is seen and said, other lines of story-telling remain implied in just a few words, background you will not learn and need not learn but which fills in even more these thoroughly-developed portraits.
Time Stands Still goes into how such people as Sarah and James can deal with the horrible trauma they’ve witnessed and how they try to objectify the effect. That colors their lives not only away from the war zones but how they relate to life in their different other real world. In this respect Margulies perceptively has them rarely touch or never actually use the word “love," as if being too committed to anything emotional could shatter their well-constructed armor against what they have witnessed in other parts of the world gone mad.
Director Brigden subtly and meaningfully stages Sarah’s and James’ movements to underscore their fragmented connections. Don’t look for that or think about it. Let it stand there while, more important, you become engaged with the truthful passion and vulnerable reasonableness of Andrew May’s portrayal of James. Or watch the many levels of meaning in Angela Reed’s version of Sarah, getting you to know and feel how much goes on inside her which she need not say to make genuine.
Add to this Robin Abramson’s always believable, sweet take on Mandy, at first comic but later even more endearing. Tim McGeever’s Richard perfectly rounds out the ensemble.
Time Stands Still never stands still but moves in many directions, all of them masterful, all of them worth your time inside the theater and later outside while you ponder what Margulies tells us about real people.
It continues through November 6th at City Theatre 1300 Bingham Street on Pittsburgh’s South Side www.citytheatrecompany.org 412/ 431-4400