'Time Stands Still' At TheaterWorks A Finely Nuanced Production

The Hartford Courant

The show: "Time Stands Still" by Donald Margulies at Hartford's TheaterWorks

First impressions: There are minefields aplenty in this tale about the relationship between a wounded war photojournalist and her foreign correspondent partner. The setting is not Afghanistan, Iraq or Syria but rather a loft apartment in Brooklyn where the couple returns after a particularly horrific assignment.

There are lots of political and moral issues to consider, ranging from journalistic ethics to the effect images of violence have in culture. But at the heart of this story is a human relationship that unravels in tiny degrees, examining in daily detail what happens when a couple is no longer in the same frame of focus.

Rob Ruggiero directs a finely nuanced production with a quartet of terrific performances. This is a must-see show for those who like theater that engages, challenges and stays with you long after the show is over.

What's it about?: Sarah Goodman (Erika Rolfsrud) and her partner of eight years James (Tim Altmeyer) — "the Sid and Nancy of journalism" — are pretty shaken on their return. He is still recovering from a nervous breakdown while on an earlier assignment in the Mideast; she is newly scarred and terribly broken, the victim of a roadside bomb that took the life of her translator. He is nervously solicitous; independent Sarah bristles at the attention as she painfully mends her body and heart.

The extended stay at home is a balm for James who relishes an assignment as banal as writing about horror movies. He also envies the blissful ordinariness of the newfound life that their longtime friend and publisher Richard (Matthew Boston) has found with his much younger girlfriend Mandy (Liz Holtan). But Sarah is itching to return to her work documenting in intimate detail the victims of war.

Sounds serious: Actually with characters this smart and sharp, it's a very witty play. As Sarah says about Richard's relationship with Mandy: "There's young and there's... embryonic." It's a stunningly efficient play, too.

Efficient?: With great economical craft, Margulies details characters, conflict and relationships with a gesture, a look, an everyday throwaway line that shows the growing cracks in a foundation.

The performances?: First-rate all around. Ruggiero directs the actors with such everyday ease that you feel you're eavesdropping. The intimacy of the TheaterWorks space works even better for the play than when I saw it on Broadway.

Rolfsrud and Altmeyer have a natural intimacy and rhythms of a longtime couple. Altmeyer conveys with detailed delicacy the loving comfort that both supports and smothers. Rolfsrud balances the tough and the tender as the woman who captures moments but does not know how to live in them. Both are heartbreaking as they struggle with the realization that they are on diverging paths.

Boston, who played the exec who finds redemption in Hartford Stage's "Water by the Spoonful," provides humor and concern as the editor who discovers the midlife joys with Mandy, played with guileless ease by Holtan.

Who will like it?: Donald Margulies fans, especially those who liked his other strong relationships plays: "Dinner with Friends" and "Sight Unseen."

Who won't?: Those who need more narrative fireworks and easy answers.

For the kids?: Smart older teens might appreciate the ethical journalistic dilemmas and the complexity of relationships, but, overall, it's an adult drama.

Any footnotes?: In the second act, one couple receives as a wedding present a first edition photobook by Robert Capa. The war photojournalist was the subject of a unproduced screenplay by Margulies.

Twitter review in 140 characters or less?: War is hell but relationships aren't a walk in the park either as shown in this tight, taut drama.

Thoughts on leaving the parking lot?: Much is said about Goodspeed Opera House's minuscule stage — it's almost obligatory to mention the fact in reviews — but the TheaterWorks stage is just as challenging. It has had many outstanding designers who transform the basement space and Luke Hegel-Cantarella is the latest of these stage magicians, here creating a Brooklyn loft so lived-in you want to pull up a chair.

The basics: The show, at the 233 Pearl St. theater, continues through Sept. 15. Running time is 2 hours and 5 minutes, including one intermission. Performances are Tuesdays through Thursdays at 7:30 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday matinees ar 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $50 to $63. Seniors at Saturday martinees are $35; student rush $17. Information: 860-527-7838 and www.theaterworkshartford.org.

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