REVIEW: Donald Margulies' trenchant play, now at the Guthrie, explores the tension between finding hope in our private lives and the need to confront ugly reality.
"There's so much beauty in the world," says Mandy. "But you only see misery...I wish you'd just let yourselves feel the joy. Y'know? Otherwise, what's the point?"
These words land with such ambivalence in the heart of a journalist. Yes, there is joy but pull your head out of the sand, girl -- the world is a roiling cauldron of inhumanity and destruction. Yes, there is joy, but our job is to show you grim truth and move you to action.
Playwright Donald Margulies picks away at these conflicting views in "Time Stands Still," which opened Friday at the Guthrie Theater. Mandy is a young idealist whose heart bleeds for those in peril. Her response to cruelty is to look away. Sarah risks her life to document the ugliness with her camera. We must bear witness, she believes, in order to build Mandy's beautiful world.
Margulies finds commonality -- the hope for a better universe -- between these two. That makes "Time Stands Still" worth our while.
Sarah and her partner, James, have returned from covering the Iraqi war. She was seriously injured; he suffered a nervous breakdown. Sarah's photo editor, Richard, comes by to visit their fashionable Williamsburg loft (beautifully decked out by set designer Walt Spangler). With him, Richard has brought his young, beautiful girlfriend, Mandy. Margulies sets up a few plot points, but the play is about how we choose to live our lives.
Director Joe Dowling uses a wise and light touch in drawing out Mandy and Sarah, understanding that within them is the heart of Margulies' play.
Valeri Mudek makes a compelling case for Mandy, refusing to disrespect the character's humanity and investing her with spirit and integrity. Mandy is not book smart, but she possesses a native intelligence. Mudek's excellent investigation of the role are both evident and invisible.
Sarah Agnew, one of the best actors working in the Twin Cities, locates Sarah's brisk purpose. When Mandy asks how Sarah can photograph a dying child rather than help, she explains that medical care is the job of rescue workers. Her job is to show the results of war.
But is Sarah animated by altruism or her compulsion for action and danger? Agnew allows Sarah's composure to crack when she asks the question all journalists ponder but avoid: Are we vultures feeding off the suffering of others?
Mark Benninghofen's Richard swaggers about like a self-important but not unlikable guy -- what we in the business call an "editor." Bill McCallum as James, the freelance writer, appears more mannered than the others.
"Time Stands Still" might look familiar to journalists, but its truths are universal. How do we live with joy amid suffering?
Graydon Royce • 612-673-7299