As a seasoned photo journalist, Sarah Goodwin has made her living looking through a lens, freezing moments of heartache, horror and humanity in the war-torn corners of the globe. She and her long-time partner, combat reporter James Dodd, have always shared a deep commitment to their work. So when a roadside bomb in Iraq sends her home to New York for months of painful recovery, both are reeling from the trauma. In witty and engaging conversation, the couple explores this new direction their lives have taken, not sure what it’s revealing or where this new road will take them. Can they recover from their wounds and adjust to a more conventional life? And should they?
Those are the core questions explored in Pulitzer-Prize author Donald Margulies’ highly acclaimed new drama, Time Stands Still, currently on offer at Sierra Repertory Theatre’s East Sonora facility through Oct. 28. As James and Sarah struggle to bring their relationship and careers back into focus, fissures emerge. The contrasts become stark with the arrival of their old friend Richard and his new and quite younger fiancée, Mandy.
Time Stands Still, which can make you feel as if you are eavesdropping on two cherished friends at their most vulnerable and on an emotional precipice, is directed by Scott Gilbert, formerly the artistic director at Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival and the Foothill Theatre Company of Nevada City. He has assembled a dynamic and powerful cast with which to tell this compelling story. The standing ovation given to the cast after their performance on Saturday is proof of that.
Los Angeles actress Stasha Surdyke is Sarah and New Yorker Joe Gately is her partner, James. Both are accomplished performers with years of stage and screen credits. Surdyke just finished leading roles at the Laguna Playhouse and produced and starred in an award-winning production of Noel Coward’s, Private Lives in Burbank. Gately’s recent regional productions range from Daddy Warbucks in Annie to the historical drama Triangle Shirt Fire and God of Carnage.
Surdyke captures the spirit and soul of Sarah. She has developed a character that has many sharp and brutal edges while balancing it with a soft and sometimes insecure persona. We root for her while at the same time wondering how she can so easily turn off her emotions as she records the misery that has enveloped so much of the world today.
Less convincing in his role, was Gately. Although he was believable as a man who has determined that he would rather trade in his laptop for the more mundane and safe trappings of domestic tranquility (including marriage and children), he never came across as someone who had seen more battle than a chalkboard eraser fight. He was most effective during moments of introspection as when he realizes in the second act that Sarah needs the life she has carved out for herself more than she needs him.
Playing their long-time friend and editor Richard Ehrlich, is Ty Smith, a familiar face to regional audiences. As his fiancée Mandy Bloom, the theatre has tapped Los Angeles resident Lindsey Graham, who is a show stealer. She has nailed her character and given depth to a seemingly shallow Mandy. Graham’s expert timing, whether delivering lines comedic or dramatic, was spot-on. Mandy’s undimmed optimism and “the glass is half-full” outlook on life, made her a refreshing respite to the otherwise heavy subject matter. She muses aloud how a journalist can simply record the misery of the world and not take a more active role in alleviating it. (Graham’s description of the horror she felt while watching a baby elephant simply disappear into a dune during a sandstorm, while the camera crews recorded the tragedy, was particularity poignant.) Goodwin explains that, as journalists, they are there not to save life, but to record it. She adds that with their words and photos they attempt to capture life so as to effect change for the better. Smith is, as always, perfectly cast as their editor who marvels, craves and needs Goodwin’s pictures and Dodd’s words. Those images are good for his magazine and fulfills his desire for that action and danger filled existence not found in his corporate office.
A very pleasant variety of Middle-Eastern music greets the audience when they arrive and during the short scene changes and intermission. The set, which was designed by Dennis Jones, was perfect and kudos to the set dresser for the expert attention to detail. Applause is also due to Light Designer Christopher Van Tuyl and Costume Designer Bina Bieker who both did a terrific job with this show.
Time Stands Still is a play about war, or at least the effects of war on human beings. SRT has again shown that they are a theatrical powerhouse in the foothills and this is not one to be missed. I must issue a word of caution, though, as there is adult language sprinkled throughout the performance. Time Stands Still is presented at 7 p.m. on Thursdays and Fridays, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Saturdays and 2 p.m. on Wednesdays and Sundays. The theatre is located at 13891 Mono Way, Sonora and ticket information is available by calling 209-532-3120 or online at www.sierrarep.org.
Mike Moon is a correspondent for The Oakdale Leader and contributes occasional columns and reviews.