When a Woman Becomes a Camera, How Can She Learn to Feel?

Sandy York, John L. Payne, Kate Kenney and John Carlin in HTC's production of "Time Stands Still."    Tom Kochie photo
Sandy York, John L. Payne, Kate Kenney and John Carlin in HTC’s production of “Time Stands Still.”     Tom Kochie photo

A skilled photojournalist who covers war is a master of capturing moments, freezing them in time, and packaging them to send them out so the rest of the world can see the horrors of war.

But a photojournalist wounded in action cannot be so neatly packaged and sent back to the world she’s known.

The wonderful play “Time Stands Still,” written by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Donald Margulies, follows one such photojournalist, a woman named Sarah Goodwin, as she tries to reintegrate back into her life at home in Brooklyn.

The problem is, a home life was never what she was looking for.

Hampton Theatre Company’s new production of “Time Stands Still,” which opened Thursday and runs through Jan. 25, is cinematic in its ability to get under the skin of four characters as they attempt to put Sarah back together. By the time it was over, we stared at the stage as the fine actors took their bows, realizing we were waiting for the credits to roll, as our brains processed the negatives of the characters’ intertwined lives.

The play won a much-deserved standing ovation Friday night.

Sarah and her longtime boyfriend, reporter Jamie Dodd (who wishes everyone would call him James), had been covering the war in Iraq when Jamie had a nervous breakdown after witnessing one too many bloody scenes. After he left Sarah alone on assignment in Iraq, she was injured by a roadside bomb, ripping apart her leg and scarring her face.

Jamie brings Sarah home to Brooklyn, but before she can begin to process what has happened, her photo editor and former lover, Richard Ehrlich, drops in with his new girlfriend, Mandy Bloom, a barely post-pubescent event planner who cries and pouts, wants to eat ice cream on a whim, demands that nature photographers help dying elephants and loves beauty.

She’s a simple girl, but simple girls, after all that the other characters have been through, are a palliative idea.

All four of the actors in this production are new to the HTC stage, but they are veteran performers who bring great chops to their roles. They all shine under the direction of HTC’s executive director, Sarah Hunnewell.

Sandy York, appearing courtesy of Actors’ Equity Association, plays Sarah Goodwin like one would play a human who thinks she is a camera. She sees everything clearly and emotionlessly, with a surgical precision. Every twitch of her lip says volumes about her disdain for a world that has seen so little, first-hand, of what she has seen. She’s as much of a hard case as her Leica. She could lose a world’s worth of love and not care.

Kate Kenney is delightful as Mandy Bloom. Even Sarah Goodwin says Mandy is delightful (while rolling her eyes and sneering). Ms. Kenney plays Mandy as a gushing ball of emotion, crying one moment, giggling the next, hugging and spreading her uninvited love throughout the cast. She hits them the way one would be hit by a Smurf who has the energy of a Tasmanian Devil. She’s playing a shallow kid, but there seems nothing shallow about her resumé.

Ms. Kenney, whose biography includes numerous New York productions ranging from Shakespeare to an I.T. Spaghetti Western, is also a puppeteer, a magician’s assistant and an arts rehabilitation volunteer at the Sing Sing Correctional Facility. When she finishes wreaking havoc on the HTC stage, she’s bound for the Lost Nation Theatre in Vermont to play the title role in Sarah Ruhl’s Eurydice, telling the myth of Orpheus from his wife’s perspective, while she’s stuck in Hades with her father.

The two female roles in this play are given the most meat to work with by Mr. Margulies — defying the expectations of an audience that might assume men have more to say about war than women.

The role of Jamie Dodd calls for a man willing to play backup to Sarah Goodwin’s drama. John Carlin, who recently returned to acting after a career as a musician, educator, songwriter and single parent, does an adept job at this house-husband role.

Richard, Mandy and Sarah, looking at photographs of war       Tom Kochie photo
Richard, Mandy and Sarah, looking at photographs of war Tom Kochie photo

Whether washing dishes, undercooking the chicken, fetching the whiskey, attempting to help his girlfriend navigate around their small loft, or proposing to Sarah because he wants to be able to make medical decisions when he’s at her bedside, he plays a man who feels real feelings, who understands moral ambiguity, who understands war.

He’s also a man who understands love, something, it seems, that is beyond Sarah’s abilities. He’s so good at understanding love that he knows the day that Sarah began to have an affair with their fixer (an interpreter who helps introduce reporters to locals abroad) after he leaves Iraq.

Every day, he said, she’d sent him updates on her travels, using the word “we” when talking about where she and her fixer, Tariq, had gone. Then, one day, she changed the “we” in her emails to an “I.” By writing Tariq out of her narrative, he confronted Sarah, she gave herself away. She confessed to her liaison on the spot.

John L. Payne, also appearing courtesy of Actors’ Equity, does a swell job playing a swell character, a photo-pusher at a magazine that squeezes his photos of conflict in between celebrity interviews and fashion tips, an old flame who still loves Sarah and wishes she could at least keep herself from being blown up again. But he’s happy with Mandy’s promise of a simple life and he’s given up on Sarah ever becoming a warm woman. So does this play.

But that’s the life that she chose.

When Mandy and Richard open up Sarah’s laptop to look at the photographs of her last trip to Iraq, Mandy unselfconsciously blurts out that one is beautiful, then realizes the absurdity of calling a war photo beautiful.

Sarah doesn’t mind.

“I think they’re beautiful,” she agrees, “but then again, I’m their mother.”

This production is beautiful in much the same way.

“Time Stands Still” runs at the Quogue Community Hall from Jan. 8 through 25, with shows on Thursdays and Fridays at 7 p.m., Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m.

To reserve tickets, visit www.hamptontheatre.org, or call OvationTix at 1.866.811.4111.

Beth Young

Beth Young has been covering the East End since the 1990s. In her spare time, she runs around the block, tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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