Stephanie Caspelich

Reporting the news that matters.

Looking Through the Lens of War: A Review of Donald Margulies’ Time Stands Still

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By Donald Margulies
Directed by Austin Pendleton
Runs at the Steppenwolf Theatre from January 19 to May 13, 2012

The images and stories of war carry the weight of its horror, pain and aggression. We catch a glimpse of it and look away.  We read about it and have the luxury of turning the page. But for those who witness it through their lenses and document it with their pens, the tales of war are long, harrowing and come at a cost that runs deep.

Steppenwolf Theatre‘s production of Donald MarguliesTime Stands Still is a poignant examination of photojournalist Sarah Goodwin’s reintegration into society after covering the war in the Middle East. The broken right leg and scars on her face seem a minute detail compared to the gravity of the emotional turmoil sustained by being a witness to war. The relationship with her partner, freelance journalist James Dodd, is clearly strained and often falls into a comfortable routine. One can sense that they want and need different things in their lives: James’ call for family life and Sarah’s need to bear witness and show the atrocities of war. The revelation of Sarah’s intimate relationship with her fixer Tariq further complicates matters.

Sarah’s fast-paced, purpose driven life is set against the simple, mundane life of Mandy Bloom, Richard Ehrlich’s young girlfriend. Her disdain for close friend and editor Richard’s choice of an “embryonic” girlfriend is searing, but is met with complete disregard as he declares,”I love you and I’m glad you’re alive, but your know what? I don’t give a shit what you think.” Mandy’s carefree attitude and simplistic notions of life make it difficult for Sarah to understand what Richard sees in her at all. It does not help that Mandy questions her role as a photojournalist and a witness to war, “Why do you just stand around and take pictures? Why don’t you help them?” To which Sarah replies,”I am helping them by taking their picture. If I didn’t, no one would know, no one would care.”

The play questions Sarah’s predilection for war and her motivation to capture the most violent and painful situations in people’s lives. “I feel like a fraud. I’ve made a living off the suffering of others,” she says. Moments of doubt are countered by the conviction that there is much purpose and responsibility in her ability to bear witness and report the experience of war. It is easy for James to empathize with Sarah as he started out with such fervor, but his priorities have changed. Like Richard and Mandy, James longs for a normal, uncomplicated life. Slowly, he comes to accept that Sarah is not cut out for such a staid life.

The backdrop of war is an allegory for the changes all the characters go through as the story unfolds, and the conflicts that arise because of them. Sarah deals with the constant struggle to change and conform to normalcy for James, whom she truly loves. In the end, she is willing to sacrifice her relationship with him in order to find her true self and pursue her passion in life. This, she discovers, is the only path to happiness and fulfillment.

As we look at their photographs, listen to their stories and read their articles, let us think of  the brave souls who chronicle the devastation of war in the name of truth. May they always find the strength, courage and perseverance to continue their noble work, and may they always find their way back home.

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Written by Stephanie Caspelich

April 2, 2012 at 10:52 pm

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