More than 2.5 million American servicemen have participated in the ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. At their side have been hundreds of photographers and reporters documenting these wars. “Time Stands Still,” a drama by Donald Margulies that opened May 18 at the Adobe Rose Theater in Santa Fe, is about the conflicting pressures that make and unmake the lives of two of these journalists. Opening in New York in 2009, the play was nominated for two Tony Awards.
As a lifelong journalist myself, I found it easy to empathize with the plight of journalists trapped between the demands of private life and the rewards of a profession that can easily—all too easily—escalate into a mission. A complementary conundrum is whether to engage with those you cover or remain aloof in the name of objectivity—“to record life, not change it,” in the words of Margulies. Do you help those who are suffering or only record their pain? Do you try to silence your own emotions in the name of giving voice to others? Are objectivity and aloofness possible—or desirable? These are the questions raised in this play.
While Margulies dramatically poses these questions, he is careful not to answer them. Instead, he maintains a precise balance that shows the dilemmas but allows the members of the audience to seek their own individual resolution to them.
This four-character drama directed by Catherine Lynch represents a new trend in Santa Fe arts. Long famed for galleries and classical music, Santa Fe has only recently developed a serious theater scene, with a few companies focusing on professional quality and controversial contemporary content. This new play represents the apex of that trend with the highest levels of professionalism and commitment.
The play opens with a couple having just returned home to New York from covering the war in Iraq. Photojournalist Sarah Goodwin (Maureen Joyce McKenna, founder and managing director of the Adobe Rose) has been badly wounded by a roadside bomb—her face scarred, her arm in a sling and her leg in a brace. Helping her is her lover and colleague, reporter James Dodd (Kevin Kilmer, the standout in an exceptionally able cast), who appears strong and healthy. It quickly develops that he is neither. It also becomes apparent that for both of them the psychic wounds of the horrors they have witnessed are deeper and longer lasting than any bodily injuries.
The other two characters are entirely different. Richard Ehrlich (David Sinkus, an off-Broadway performer who has toured internationally with West Side Story and hosts a classical music program on KHFM) is the photo editor of the magazine that publishes the couple’s work. Settled and middle-aged, he has just embarked on the one great adventure of his life: a love affair with a pretty, naive and much younger woman, Mandy Bloom (Alexandra Renzo). They are set up as foils for the two journalists, their opposites in just about every conceivable way.
The greatest delight of this play is watching how this foursome change size and shape. Strong, tough James weakens, childlike Mandy finds her footing as an assured woman, powerful editor Richard is in reality trapped in his job but overjoyed in his new life, and Sarah, the cold, calculating photographer, exposes suppressed ghosts haunting her. Sarah is the center of the action, the story and the dialogue, but due to her cool self-control and near imperviousness to others, is also somewhat enigmatic. That McKenna is able to make this difficult character believable and, at times, even sympathetic is a tribute to the subtlety of her acting skills.
The set for the play is interesting and a bit unusual. It is a theater in the round, with several loci for the action. I sat a foot or so behind a sofa where characters converse. The set allows the characters to move smoothly from one part of the stage to another as the numerous scenes unfold.
All of those involved in the production are able, knowledgeable, experienced and—remarkably in New Mexico—paid for their contributions. Director Lynch, who taught for a decade at the Piven Theater Workshop, won an Emmy for her short film Katrina: Ten Years Later. Assistant director Melissa Chambers appears in season two of Graves and the forthcoming Netflix series Godless.
Set designer Geoff Webb emphasizes the experimental nature of the Adobe Rose: “It gives opportunity for the entire company to explore new and and exciting production concepts, to go deep into unfamiliar territory….” Costume designer Taila Pura was for many years a director, actor, designer, writer and producer in Canada. Corbain Albaugh, production manager and sound designer, has participated in 25 plays in New Mexico and Colorado. Stage manager Lynn Smith has managed 20 plays since moving to Santa Fe seven years ago.
“Time Stands Still” (the title refers to Sarah’s description of what happens when she shoots a photograph) continues Thursdays-Sundays through June 4 at the Adobe Rose Theater, 1213 B Parkway Drive on the south side of Santa Fe. For tickets and information go to adoberosetheatre.org or call 505-629-8688.