Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay

Time Stands Still
Raven Players
Review by Jeanie K. Smith | Season Schedule (updated)

Also see Patrick's reviews of Red Scare on Sunset and The Goat, or Who is Sylvia? and Jeanie's review of Twelfth Night

Maureen O'Neill
Photo by Ray Mabry
In his play Time Stands Still, American playwright Donald Margulies gives us much to ponder regarding ethics in journalism and art, but he also chronicles the complexities of love and friendship between intelligent, earnest, and feeling people. The production currently running at Raven Theater captures the themes of the play with a worthy cast, providing fodder for post-show discussion of modern, timely issues. Its angst is infused with a gentle humor, but ultimately asks us to consider significant questions.

Margulies, best known for his Pulitzer Prize-winning play Dinner With Friends, likes to paint characters in watercolor—muted, subtle tones rather than vivid shouts of pigment. There are no obvious villains or heroes, just believable people with conflicted feelings, trying to do the right thing. Such is the case with the foursome in Time Stands Still: an elite group, perhaps, of highly educated and successful people, each in their own way attempting to construct a life guided by integrity and graced with love.

Sarah (Maureen O'Neill) and James (Rusty Thompson) return to their Brooklyn loft apartment after six weeks in Germany while Sarah was recovering from injuries from a bombing incident in Iraq, where she was a photojournalist on the front lines. Still in rough shape, she nevertheless resists James' ministrations, preferring to push her recuperation forward herself. Their eight-years relationship is obviously on rocky ground—James, a wartime reporter who was covering the same Iraqi conflict with Sarah, feels guilt over having left her behind when a breakdown necessitated returning home, the carnage of war having exacted an emotional toll. Sarah seems to understand, but feels her own guilt over choices she made under fire and in his absence.

Enter Richard (Pablo Romero), long-time friend and Sarah's former flame, an editor at a well-known newsmagazine, with his new, much younger girlfriend in tow. Mandy (Emily Tugaw) seems impossibly chirpy, bringing metallic balloons and chiming in with ditzy remarks, but in private she declares a genuine love for Richard and a determination to pursue the relationship. Richard also defends his choice of Mandy to Sarah and James, citing a desire for a more joyful, easier life that he's found with her. Sarah says she's happy for him, but is still skeptical: "There's young, and then there's embryonic."

Each scene reveals new information, new problems, as Sarah and James deal with wounds both physical and emotional, and navigate their desires for meaningful work and a relationship that will fulfill both their needs. It's tricky territory, very contemporary and fraught with significant landmines. The debates over the functions of art and journalism serve to frame the ongoing debate between Sarah and James as to the course and nature of their relationship. Margulies doesn't supply easy solutions—the ambivalence embedded in his muted tones invites our participation in the debates and lingers in our thoughts.

O'Neill embodies a very real, likable and believable Sarah, letting us inside her head even as she fends off James and Richard. The nuanced expression and vulnerability she brings to the tough photographer endears us to an otherwise "hard to love" character. Thompson's James convincingly struggles with career woes and does his best to conquer Sarah's doubts, but is no match for her strength.

Romero comes across quite authentically as the editor who must balance budget against aesthetics, a true friend but also a pragmatist. Tugaw is a wonderful Mandy, delivering most of the humor without creating a caricature.

There are some directorial issues in staging and sound effects as well as overall pacing, but none of this detracts from the thought-provoking nature of the play or the fine performances. It's a satisfying and interesting two hours, and will stay with you for long after.

Time Stands Still, through October 7, 2018, by Raven Players, Raven Performing Arts Theater, 115 North Street, Healdsburg CA. Tickets $10.00-$25.00 can be purchased online at or by phone at 707-433-6335

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