By Diana Saenger
In this very turbulent world, what happens to us — or to family members — can alter our lives in a split second. This truth becomes forcibly real for war correspondents James and Sarah, the lead characters in Donald Margulies’ drama, “Time Stands Still,” now playing at the North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach.
James (Francis Gercke) and Sarah (Mhari Sandoval) have been dating abroad for years while covering one battlefield after another. He is a reporter and she is a photojournalist. After suffering an emotional break down, James is on the mend and back home freelancing. When Sarah is injured in a bomb explosion, she, too, must return home to convalesce. Now in their New York apartment together, getting back to normal is not so easy. “Jamie” has come full circle realizing he almost lost the love of his life, and now he wants to settle down, get married and take care of Sarah.
But it’s not only physical pain that Sarah is dealing with. She is tormented over her “inhumane” job of photographing human terror and tragedy. And for this smart, independent woman depending upon anyone, even Jamie, is something she can’t tolerate. She’s floored when he proposes, yelling at him that marriage wasn’t the course they set upon. After Jamie calms her down, she agrees to think about it.
In the interim, the couples’ magazine editor Richard (John Nutten) shows up to check on them with a new, young girlfriend on his arm. He’s extremely happy to see Sarah home and tries to cover up his shock at her scars and injuries. It quickly becomes apparent the exuberant young Mandy (Stacey Hardke) is a little out of her league in this company of veterans. When Mandy steps out of the room, both Sarah and Jamie question Richard about why he’s with such a young woman.
When Richard suggests his two friends write a book about their war experiences – mainly to keep Sarah’s mind off returning to the front – Jamie is less excited as he knows it will be more about Sarah’s fabulous pictures than his stories. At one point, when Mandy looks at a picture Sarah took of a young boy dying, she accuses Sarah of not helping the boy in order to get his picture. Sarah comes to her own defense, but the accusation stings and keeps her guessing about her career.
The four cast members make easy work of this story. Sandoval is so angry and bitter she’s almost unlikable in the first act, but through her invisible shield of armor, she gives a glimpse of a strong and caring person inside. Gercke is at first so easy going as Jamie that his path is almost too simple, but as time together with Sarah lingers on, he understands that their future is in jeopardy and he steps outside of his comfort zone.
Nutten is the sturdy player in the scenario with great control of his character. He’s in a great spot in his life and even though he dearly loves these two people and will do what he can to help them, he knows what he has in Mandy, and is not about to lose it. Hardke plays her hand as Mandy, one card at a time, painting a black and white picture of her in the first act and filling it in with deep colors in the second as she comes full circle as a nurturer.
Direction by North Coast Rep’s Artistic Director David Ellenstein is superb and the set design by Marty Burnett is terrific.
If you go
‘Time Stands Still’
Matinees, evenings to March 17
North Coast Repertory Theatre, 987 Lomas Santa Fe Drive, Solana Beach