While society often encounters the upsetting stories perpetually plaguing the news cycle, it probably doesn’t start brainstorming solutions to the world’s problems, or consider the sacrifices others made to give society that depressing reading material. But in the Bonn Studio’s latest production, Time Stands Still, viewers are confronted with these dark realities as two couples work through these issues in an entertaining, yet distressed manner.
Directed by Caitlin Mason, MCAS ’16, the play centers around Sarah Goodwin, a photojournalist who hobbles home to Brooklyn from the war in Iraq with crutches and a scab-studded face following her recovery from a roadside bomb explosion. Assisting her is her guilt-ridden boyfriend, James, a reporter who traveled alongside Sarah until returning early to Brooklyn, only to jet back to the war zone to be by his comatose girlfriend’s side. The couple attempts to heal in the fallout from this harrowing experience, and soon they meet with their magazine editor friend, Richard, and his sheltered girlfriend, Mandy. Through the occasionally cumbersome discussions between these couples, the audience is pulled into the drama of adjusting to life after the horrors of war, and watches the strain of that misery immeasurably affect the lives of the characters.
The entirety of the play takes place in James and Sarah’s cozy apartment, which lends constancy to the ever-changing lives of the characters. The stage is set with rustic touches and embellishments from the couple’s lives abroad, such as photos Sarah has taken of the people on her travels. These photos broadcast the couple’s alarming lack of work-life balance. As the plot transpires, the stage often goes dark as the characters progress through several days. The audience is slowly filled in on these gaps during the following scenes. Not only does this periodically allow the audience to reflect on the preceding scenes, but also it keeps its attention by exhibiting the most interesting snippets of the characters’ lives (which are spread out over several months).
The one aspect of the sound design that viewers might find mildly confusing are the train noises that appear sporadically throughout the play. Presumably, the sounds signify Sarah and James’ heading off towards another endeavor in their daily lives. Viewers, however, aren’t always given an express explanation of the couple’s impending plans, so this phenomenon was sometimes perplexing. Nevertheless, the other sound design tactics such as the cacophonic news radio voices that open the play, or the melancholic transition music between scenes really enhance the audience’s perception of the play, and add a layer of narrative perspective to succeeding events.
The production’s cast performed the play’s startling material with genuine emotion that brought the plot to life. Mandy (Lauren Strauss, MCAS ’18) brilliantly comes off as naive and superficial compared with the other characters on stage, and she is a great representative of the average American civilian. One could easily write off her bubbly demeanor and profuse attachment to the safety of domestic life as selfish or unimportant, but ultimately, she is one of the most relatable characters in the play. After James flies off the handle about Richard’s magazine’s unwillingness to publish too many “bummer stories” at a time, Mandy heartbreakingly notes that the average person can’t do much about the world’s problems except get depressed and turn the page. She goes on to say that “There’s so much beauty in the world, but you only see the misery….Feel the joy, otherwise what’s the point?”
This sentiment is also championed by Richard (Johnny Rooney, MCAS ‘17), and the audience is able to empathize with his wish for a simpler and lighter life, which he expresses through his vehement outbursts at Sarah and James. Since Richard claims Sarah’s near-death experience set him on this course towards domesticity, the audience gains the sense that at some point, one must draw the line between fighting for justice, and sentencing oneself to the same grotesque end as those one is trying to help.
Played by Michael Pisaturo, LSOE ’17, and Cassie Chapados, MCAS ’17, respectively, James and Sarah spend much of the play navigating the angst-ridden waters of making personal sacrifices in hopes that their work will make a difference in the world. Chapados’ portrayal of Sarah’s uncompromising dedication to her work complements Pisaturo’s display of James’ concern and gradual scrutinizing of their lifestyle in a way that prompts the audience to contemplate society’s perhaps unsatisfactory reception of the products of the pair’s sacrifices.
By the conclusion of Time Stands Still, the audience is left feeling stunned by the choices the characters have made, and viewers have no choice but to hang onto that feeling as the engaging story is zipped up by its ends.
Featured Image By Kristin Saleski / Heights Staff