Monday, August 04, 2014

"Time Stands Still" at ReAct Theatre

Brian Pucheu and Maria Knox in Time Stands Still (Photo David Hsieh)
Time Stands Still
Starring Maria Knox, Brian Pucheu, John Bianchi and Mona Leach
Through August 24, 2014

Two war correspondents, a writer and photographer, are forced by injury to come home, heal, and figure out if that life is still theirs. Donald Margulies has written an absorbing play, with interesting characters, in Time Stands Still. Of course time doesn’t stand still for anyone, but James and Sarah stand in a moment of transition. ReACT Theatre is producing this play at the Ethnic Cultural Theater in the U. District.

If casting is 75% of the effort, director David Hsieh cast well. Each of the four players here is well positioned to perform each role. While opening night turned out to be “first audience,” and therefore, the timing and rhythm of performing to others wasn’t settled in, I’m certain that each will deepen into “the pocket” in short order.

Maria Knox plays Sarah as uncomfortable anywhere except on the battlefield, a woman who doesn’t despise others for their “normal” lives, but just can’t seem to fit in anywhere “normal.” Brian Pucheu is James, who after realizing how dangerous their lives have been, and experiencing almost losing Sarah, is determined that he finally wants something different. They are a breed apart, though, as most of us probably can’t begin to imagine life travelling from war to war.

John Bianchi is their friend and editor who has to straddle the divide of business and pleasure. His dialogue, by Margulies, is completely believable and understandable, and his is a character easy to root for. Mona Leach plays his new girlfriend who is vacuous, but friendly, and gets to deliver most of the humor in the play. But Margulies allows her to grow. She represents all of us who want to, and mostly do, ignore the wars devastating other parts of the world.

Interestingly, or unfortunately, or bemusedly, Margulies allows three characters to speak their truths and their struggles, and therefore we begin to “know” them. However, he never does let Sarah speak her truth. We see scenes after she has made decisions, but never know how those decisions were arrived at. We see the consequences, but not the determinations. So by the end of the play, we still know almost nothing about Sarah. This stands out as a weakness in the play.

Otherwise, Margulies is an accomplished dialogist and the characters are interesting and have a lot to say. The setting is contemporary, and without hitting you over the head, reminds you that there is war going on right this minute in Gaza/Israel, Libya, Afghanistan, Iraq, and other places that we’re likely in the theater to not think that much about. There is subtle commentary about how much magazine space war coverage gets in order to maintain sales.

As usual, ReAct allows “race-neutral” casting, which for this play allows a welcome diversity to the cast, since it’s unlikely that any particular skin color is called for in the script. That aspect of casting also supports the very contemporary feeling of the play.