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Time Stands Still

Close enough to touch

A new production of Donald Margulies' portrait of a couple heading for the rocks redefines "intimate".

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Time Stands Still

Date: 24 Oct 2017

There’s intimate and there’s intimate.

When Donald Margulies’ Time Stand Still opened in New York City in 2010 it played the 650-seat Biltmore Theatre. Just intimate enough, its producers probably thought, for a tightly focused play about a couple coming off the rails.

When the play was first seen in Sydney in 2013, it played in the 110-seat Darlinghurst Theatre. Kim Hardwick’s production brought you in close.

Now, thanks to Eclipse Productions and director Claudia Barrie, you can see Time Stand Still in a room that can comfortably (depending what you are sitting on) accommodate 30, and that includes the cast, crew and the guy behind the bar. You can even, if you want, sit on chairs that form part of the set.

Now that is intimate.

Margulies’ set up: Sarah (played here by Emily J Stewart) is a renowned photographer. James (Matt Minto), her partner of eight-and-something years, is a journalist. They have spent most of their time together dodging bullets in the world’s war zones, most recently in the Middle East.

All that has come to a shuddering halt some time prior to the moment we meet them. Wounded in a roadside bombing – in which her local “fixer” (and more lately her lover, we learn) was killed – Sarah has been in a German hospital recovering from serious, possibly career-ending injuries.

The play opens with James bringing Sarah home to their Brooklyn loft.

So for now they are safe. But secure? Not so much. This particular road to recovery is strewn with unexploded feelings and mined with jealousy.

At this distance, you see and hear that Margulies wrote Time Stands Still with a bigger, more conventional room in mind. Some of the play’s early dialogue sounds a touch wooden in that it’s made to reach a distant back row and make sure even the slowest among the audience is up to speed. As the play settles, however, a more realistic conversational tone develops. The scenes fill the space available to them and no more.

Acting has to be good at point blank range and so it is. Stewart (realistically made up with facial scars and a leg brace at first) and Minto create believable tension. Terry Serio serially lightens the mood as Richard, the photo editor of a big name magazine. Laura Djanegara is excellent as Mandy, the guileless and much younger woman Richard is dating.

I can’t say I admire this play any more having seen it twice now. Once is probably enough. But if you haven’t seen Time Stands Still before, the combination of Margulies’ craftsmanship, this novel venue and the sense of immersion proximity creates will hold you.

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