Review: Guthrie Theater's “Time Stands Still”

Most people probably wouldn’t think of war photographers as heroes. But why not? They’re in the middle of the action, they’re seeing—perhaps more acutely than anyone else—the intense trauma and carnage happening all around them, they’re putting themselves in harms way in order to capture and preserve history. These aren’t just photographers looking to make a good picture: These are unique individuals who care so deeply about being a voice to the voiceless and providing a window into a world too often hidden from the general public that they put themselves in the middle of it all.

It’s from this perspective that the Guthrie’s new show Time Stands Still pivots. The play, written by Pulitzer Prize-winner Donald Margulies, is one of the most intimate and impactful works done on the McGuire Proscenium stage. Every detail, from Walt Spangler’s immaculately designed stage to Marcela Lorca’s impressive movement coaching, is precise, making the play deeply personal and real—more an extension of life than a fictional situation.

The cast of Time Stands Still could not be more perfect. Sarah Agnew (Sarah Goodwin), Bill McCallum (James Dodd), Mark Benninghofen (Richard Ehrlich), and Valeri Mudek (Mandy Bloom) work together so intuitively and with such natural chemistry that you feel like you’re intruding on their lives as you watch.

All the action takes place in Sarah and James’s New York loft. Sarah has just returned from Iraq, where she’s been badly injured while photographing the war. She and James, a journalist, have been together nine years, covering genocides, natural disasters, and war all over the world and always side by side. Except this last time, when James was forced to return to the United States before Sarah. It’s clear that this separation—and what happened from the time James left to when he returned to take Sarah home after her accident—has redefined the couple’s relationship in a big, perhaps irreparable, way.

The second couple is opposite of James and Sarah in almost every sense. Richard is Sarah’s photo editor, as well as good friends with the couple. The three are so close that it comes as a shock when he reveals he has a new girlfriend: Mandy, a bubbly blond clocking in a good 30 years his minor. The newness and unexpectedness of their relationship serves as a metaphor for Sarah’s return: a lot has changed since her last time home—and a lot more is about to change yet.

At the core of Time Stands Still is a love story, the journey of James and Sarah trying to put their finger on why something has been altered between them. Within that search lies the emotions you’d expect: anger, frustration, guilt, relief, hope, passion. Each emotion is portrayed so acutely that it’s impossible not to go on this journey toward closure with them. It’s as if you, too, are experiencing a disturbance in your life, and the aching for that conclusion—good or bad—is so real it’s almost a shock when the lights come up.

The second spine of the story is a moral and professional debate over what role a photojournalist plays. It’s a specific issue, and yet it’s one with which we as an audience can also relate. Every day we see images of war and terror, yet how often do we stop to think about the person behind the camera? What motivates them to put themselves in the middle of such pain? Do their photos change anything? Do they change us?

Margulies doesn’t shy away from these complicated questions, and as a result he’s created that rare theater experience that will always stay with you, continually reshaping your perspective of and interest in topics you may have never considered before. Mostly, he’s created an experience you don’t want to miss.

Time Stands Still
Through May 20
Guthrie Theater, 818 S. Second St., Mpls., 612-377-2224

Bill McCallum talks love, war, and politics in this exclusive Q&A