It did not take long for me to learn some harsh lessons about the world of journalism. In my undergrad years, I was able to land a coveted night-beat reporter gig for the Fresno Bee. Working that beat, you see it all – murders, horrific accidents, drug and prostitution stings, and the worst that I came across, the discovery of the body of a young kidnapping victim.
But something happens to a reporter when you see and experience so much – you get desensitized.
Before I started my job on the beat, I remember asking another reporter about the experience of attending funerals, seeing pain and suffering up close, and being on the front lines of a city’s true grit. I was curious as to how she can see such heartache and not be emotionally affected by any of it. Her response was simple – “Doesn’t bother me, I didn’t know them.”
Harsh, yet true. There came a point where I spoke to a relative who lost their aunt to Dr. Jack Kevorkian, and I was pleased because I scooped every other media affiliate. I became used to hearing tragedy come through a police scanner, and the news rush takes over and turns a mundane night waiting for a story into the thrill of the chase.
In the wonderful, emotionally charged “Time Stands Still,” playing through Sunday, Sept. 16th at Theatreworks in Mountain View, photo journalist Sarah Goodwin (Rebecca Dines) returns to her Williamsburg apartment after being hit with a roadside bomb in Iraq. It is her reporter boyfriend James (Mark Anderson Phillips) who is dealing with his own guilt after leaving Sarah alone to deal with her injuries. To further complicate matters, mutual friend Richard (Rolf Saxon) brings his much younger girlfriend Mandy (Sarah Moser) to meet the couple, and provide an interesting counterpoint to where Sarah and James might be headed as a couple.
As Mandy sees some harsh pictures of a child not quite dead in Iraq, anger takes over. Why didn’t the photographer put down the damn camera and help? In one of so many moments where the writing of playwright Donald Margulies soared, Sarah eloquently explained her function – “Camera’s record life, not change it. I’m there to take pictures. Without me, who would know, who would care?”
Both are true in their own right. While a helping hand would not be frowned upon in such dire circumstances, Sarah is 100 percent correct. It is the images of war that spring us to action. The picture of firefighters raising an American flag from the rubble on 9/11, endless images from the Arab spring and so many pictures through the countless years of the Iraq war inspire, anger, torment and sting us. Yet, what would we know about these moments in history without a tweet, a picture, a status update?
What is striking about the production is the commitment to the emotional demands. Dines is a tour-de-force, allowing her chronic physical and emotional pain to inform every choice, every turn, every critical decision. Her scenes with Phillips, which requires a high level of commitment, oozed such truth that it was terribly seamless to buy into a world that was sculpted marvelously by Leslie Martinson’s steady and smooth direction.
Saxon, playing the more seasoned and reasonable friend, provided a nice dose of humor as well as a wonderfully pragmatic sensibility. And Sarah Moser, whom I last saw as the wonderfully orgasmic Sabrina Daltry in City Lights Theatre Company’s “In the Next Room or the Vibrator Play,” is delightful as the unassuming younger girlfriend of Richard. While seemingly clueless and wholly impractical, Moser’s Mandy does wonders to challenge the thought process of the war-torn couple.
What truly stands out in the direction is the imagery. Clearly, photos of the war’s collateral damage serve as a metaphor to the story, and Martinson’s direction further enhanced this. The play showed up on stage like a photo essay. A gentle tableau of the most intimate of embraces with soft light or a small staredown in the middle of the floor truly made me feel as if I was looking at a book that sat on the stage. So many wonderfully united moments allowed for greater pensiveness amongst the audience.
“Time Stands Still”allows us to understand the thrill and collateral damage of covering a war. As much as James desires to move forward and return to innocence and normalcy, their definition of normal is forever altered. Seeing what they have seen changes the game. And it is
something Sarah may never want to change anyway.
WHAT TO KNOW IF YOU GO
Theatreworks presents “Time Stands Still”
Written by Donald Margulies
Directed by Leslie Martinson
The word: Powerful imagery and the role of war journalism is examined brilliantly in the latest offering from Theatreworks.
Through Sunday, Sept. 16th
Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts
500 Castro Street Mountain View, CA 94041
For tickets, call (650) 903-6000 or visit the Theatreworks official website.