Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay

Time Stands Still
Cinnabar Theater
Review by Patrick Thomas | Season Schedule

Also see Richard's recent reviews of An Act of God, On Clover Road and The Boys from Syracuse and Patrick's recent review of Boeing-Boeing

Ivy Rose Miller and Laura Lowry
Photo by Eric Chazankin
"If it weren't for people like me ... the ones with the cameras," says Sarah, a photojournalist recently returned from a war zone, "... who would know? Who would care?" Sarah (Laura Lowry) is defending her profession after it's come under attack from Mandy, the much-younger girlfriend of her editor and longtime friend Richard (John Shillington). Mandy (Ivy Rose Miller) had seen video of a dying baby elephant and was overwhelmed with grief that those recording the scene didn't step in to help. It's a surprisingly heartfelt moment in a play in which life and death are treated with a certain chilly emotional distance, but it raises questions that reverberate throughout: Is change possible? Can one person make a difference?

Sarah defends the videographers, telling Mandy that animals die all the time in the wild, unrecorded, and that even if the crew had tried to help the elephant, it likely would have died anyway. Their efforts would have been moot. But the question is far broader than this. Ultimately, Sarah wants to know if the work she has devoted her life to—photographing war and other atrocities in all the world's worst places—ever actually results in any real change. In the play's second act we'll see if James, Sarah's longtime partner—in both life and reportage—has himself been transformed, and if he can sufficiently change Sarah to match his desires.

The play that raises these (and other) questions is Time Stands Still by Donald Margulies, currently running in a compelling new production at the Cinnabar Theater in Petaluma. The title refers to a description by Sarah of what she's feeling when she lifts the camera to her eye and the whole world is shut out and she exists only within the confines of her viewfinder. Time stops, and she sees only the picture.

Sarah is an adventurer, even an adrenaline junkie. She thrives on drama and an elevated heart rate. As the play begins, James is carrying Sarah into her well-appointed Brooklyn loft. Her left leg is immobilized in a brace and her face is covered on one side with scars from the IED blast that killed her fixer and sent her into a weeks-long coma. Finally, she has come home to rehabilitate, but she is determined to get back to her work as soon as possible. James, who has his own PTSD issues, wonders if they can't create a better life by embracing a calmer life.

I'm tempted to tell you more about the fascinating and gripping story Margulies has written, but you're better off discovering it for yourself. And Cinnabar has done a marvelous job of putting it on stage for you.

The set by Jesse Dreikosen is nearly as perfect a representation of a Brooklyn loft as we're going to get on the left coast. From the open kitchen to the post-and-beam framing and exposed brick to the sliding barn door entrance, it screams Williamsburg. (Except for the deadbolt on the barn door, which, given that the door slides, would be an ineffectual security measure.) This is very different in style from Dreikosen's set for 6th Street Playhouse's Anna in the Tropics,, but just as marvelously realized.

The terrific set is occupied by an equally marvelous, well-balanced cast. Laura Lowry gives us a Sarah who isn't wounded so much as she is annoyed. Her injury is important only in that it's an impediment to her doing what she feels called to do. Lowry gives us this annoyance in a kind of petulant slow burn, leavened with the occasional seething snarkiness. As Sarah's Stanford-educated reporter boyfriend, John Browning does excellent work—but fails to convince me he wouldn't be chewed up and spat out by the churning, shredding maw of a war zone. His James seems too kind—and too caught up in his own head—to thrive in that environment. While it's true that his last assignment affected him deeply, perhaps gentling him somewhat, a war correspondent is going to have more rough edges than Browning shows us.

John Shillington, however, whose talents were clearly lost in the narrative mess of Mahalia Jackson: Just As I Am, his previous work at Cinnabar, shows that when given a well-written part he can create a real character. His Richard exhibits the giddy joy of a man in love and the passion of a man committed to his work, and does beautiful work in showing distinct ways of relating to each of the other three characters. Shillington makes his interactions with Sarah, James, and Mandy a lesson in organic chemistry.

Outshining all these three performances, however, is a delightful, sincere, passionate portrayal by Ivy Rose Miller. Her Mandy is innocent but not guileless. The character is smarter than she appears to be at first, but Miller does a brilliant job of revealing her character to us at a pace that matches perfectly with how Margulies reveals her to us. That kind of inner growth is hard to show on stage, but Miller manages to pull it off without breaking a sweat. She's a standout, but also blends beautifully with the rest of the cast.

Although time stands still for Sarah when she has her eye to the viewfinder, it does not offer us the same accommodation. If you let April 17 (the closing date) pass without having seen this latest terrific offering from Cinnabar, you will have missed one of the best dramas in the North Bay in some time.

Time Stands Still runs through April 17, 2016, at the Cinnabar Theater, 3333 Petaluma Blvd North, Petaluma. Shows are Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m., and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. Tickets are $25 general, $15 for those 21 and under. Tickets and additional information are available at or by calling 707-763-8920.