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Time Stands Still

Tom Coppola as James and Amber Mason as Sarah

                                           by Ed Lieberman 

The Armonk Players are staging a timely story at Whippoorwill Hall: Time Stands Still, a Tony Award nominated play by Donald Margulies that tells what is now a familiar tale of the ravages of war, but from a slightly different perspective, and addresses some uncomfortable questions about ethics and morality. 

James and Sarah are a journalistic team: he a war correspondent, she a photographer. While in Iraq, Richard suffers a breakdown and comes home, while she remained behind with Tariq, their “fixer” (interpreter/driver/introducer, etc.). One day, Sarah and Tariq’s car is hit by a roadside bomb, killing Tariq and leaving Sarah, who was sitting next to him, comatose for several weeks after the attack, with severe injuries (physical and mental) and scarring. 

The play opens as James brings the still recuperating Sarah back to their loft in Brooklyn. They both harbor guilt: he for “leaving “ her behind in Iraq; she for having had an affair with Tariq after James left. They are greeted back home by another couple: Richard, who has known Sarah and James for years as their editor and Sarah’s former lover, and his new -- and much younger -- girlfriend, Mandy, an event planner. Sarah, who is clearly angry and frustrated by her injuries and need for assistance (she has casts on her left arm and leg, as well as shrapnel scars on her face and head) is merciless in her opinion of Mandy: when Richard describes her as “young,” Sarah calls her “embryonic.” They clearly preferred Richard’s former fling, with whom they had all had discussions and debates, including about where they would all go to dinner.   And Mandy is portrayed as ditzy and naive in the first act. 

The story of Time Stands Still is primarily about the relationship of James and Sarah, who, although as journalists with the “freedom” to come and go, undergo the same trauma as do soldiers and their families. And it shows how such trauma affects different people differently. James, who has gone through therapy for his PTSD, sees the burgeoning relationship between Richard and Mandy and tells Sarah that perhaps it’s time for them to settle down (they’ve never gotten married) and “feel the joy, otherwise what’s the point?” She still feels guilt and sorrow over the death of Tariq, and says “You’ve seen what I’ve seen. How can you sit home?” 

Surprisingly, it is Mandy who introduces the most telling argument of the play. By the second act, she has gone through pregnancy and is now a mother, and has grown in confidence to the point that after looking at Sarah’s pictures, she points out one of a dying baby and asks whether Sarah did anything to help save the baby. Sarah replies that it is her job to show suffering, not take action to alleviate it. “I’m there to record life, not change it.  . . . I’m there to take pictures. That’s my job.” That exchange leads to a re-evaluation by Richard and Sarah. Richard asks “What’s happening out there is happening whether we’re there or not. Do you think you can change things?” He wants to get married and, like James and Mandy, have a child. What Sarah does . . . well, you’ll have to see the play, no spoiler alert here. 

As usual with this company, the back stage support is competent and highly professional, ranging from Pia Haas and Christine DeTota’s direction, a wonderful set by Anthony Valbiro, to lighting by Rodd Berro. 

The cast, at least in the early performance seen by this reviewer, was uneven. Amber Mason, as Sarah, was forceful and ably held the center of the show. Elizabeth Harrington did a wonderful job growing from the “sprightly” Mandy in Act One to the self-confident mother in Act Two. Tom Coppola was adequate as the long-suffering James, and P.J. Glazer was barely so as Richard. There were flubs and timing issues with the male actors, which I am sure will be rectified when the show resumes this weekend. 

In the end, the show’s the thing to see in this production. Mr. Margulies takes a hard look at journalistic ethics. “I live off the suffering of strangers,” says Sarah. “I built a career on the sorrows of people I don’t know.” Is she a ghostly figure with a camera without the heart to sympathize with -- or aid -- the victims of the conflicts she is covering, or is she a witness to truths that would pass unnoticed without her?  This is a question worth pondering, and for that reason this play will stay with the audience long after they leave the theater. 

Upcoming dates include Thursday, June 11 at 8 p.m.; Friday, June 12 at 8 p.m.; and Saturday, June 13 at 8 p.m. Cost of tickets are adults if $20 and students 18 and under cost $10.

For tickets and more information, visit