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Time Stands Still at Steppenwolf Theatre Company | Theater review

A conflict photographer faces the war at home in Donald Margulies’s drama.

Photograph: Michael Brosilow
Time Stands Still at Steppenwolf Theatre Company

War-correspondent photog Sarah Goodwin (Sally Murphy), home in Brooklyn on forced leave after a roadside bomb left her in a coma for two weeks, seems set to explode herself in the opening scene of Donald Margulies’s 2010 play. Traumatized, grounded and frustrated, Sarah bristles at attempts by her reporter boyfriend, James (Randall Newsome), to offer assistance. She becomes downright petulant when her beloved editor, Richard (Francis Guinan), drops by with his new, much younger and much less sophisticated girlfriend, Mandy (Kristina Valada-Viars).

Margulies’s script is well-crafted—occasionally too much so, as in James’s spec piece about torture-porn horror films as desensitizing escapism, or his Act II rant about the pious shortcomings of plays that purport to fill in prosperous, NPR-listening Western theater audiences about atrocities abroad. (The latter seems a rather transparent hedge of preaching to the choir about preaching to the choir.) Still, the playwright addresses issues like journalistic ethics, work/life balance and cross-cultural voyeurism in ways that feel mostly organic.

Austin Pendleton’s production is handsomely staged on a gorgeous, appropriately photorealistic loft-apartment set by Walt Spangler with attractive, interesting lighting design by Keith Parham. Yet two crucial casting choices keep us at a remove. The sparky Valada-Viars can’t quite conceal her own intelligence enough to sell Mandy’s guilelessness. More important, Murphy’s breathy, thrashing take on Sarah never suggests the confident adrenaline junkie we’re assured she used to be.

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