TIME STANDS STILL

TSS3_preview

Written by Donald Marguiles
Directed by Jerry Heymann

TIME STANDS STILL made its New York debut in January of 2010. Though it sported a cast of A listers, the material wasn’t well served by the production. Something of the nuances of Donald Marguiles’s multilayered script were overwhelmed by the size of the show’s Broadway venue. The script plays better in an intimate venue, and audiences who were underwhelmed by the original production will discover new relevance, rawness and humor the New Light Theater’s heartfelt revival.

After suffering a near-fatal injury, photojournalist Sarah (Nancy Nagrant), returns home to Brooklyn to recuperate. Her boyfriend James (John Long), a war correspondent and freelance writer, tries to help as much as possible. But the relationship between them is as strained as it is loving. For one thing, James is burdened by guilt. He and Sarah worked side by side overseas, James filing dispatches while she took photos, until a nervous breakdown forced him to flee the war zone. Having abandoned her, he now seeks to be the man he failed to be. Sarah, too, suffers from feelings of remorse and secret grief. While James was away, she allowed her relationship with Tariq, a local interpreter (a “fixer” in press jargon), to become more than just professional. The affair did not end because of loyalty to James, but because Tariq was killed in the same blast that wounded Sarah. One thing that wasn’t destroyed is Sarah’s work, and when close friend Richard (Ross DeGraw) drops by for a visit, he’s wowed by the new pictures. A photo editor at a major magazine, Richard believes he can help James and Sarah to turn their war reportage into book. James worries that it’s too soon, but for Sarah the only way forward is by doing what she’s always done. Just as she readies herself to get back into the action, James finds himself infused with newfound desire for home and stability. After all, Richard and his pregnant wife Mandy (Assol Abdullina), seem happy (even if she is half his age). Renewing their commitment, Sarah and James decide to tie the knot, but the way forward is more fraught than a minefield. Simmering resentments and deep disagreements threaten to topple everything they’ve built.

The script goes to both painful and tenderly funny places as these intelligent, troubled characters navigate the intersection of personal and polemical. Both Sarah and James wonder if, for its righteous intent, their work even has any relevance anymore. Does anything really change? Or do readers linger only briefly on what Mandy calls “bummer stories”, before moving on to puff pieces and celebrity profiles? Does pointing a camera at tragedy commemorate, or merely exploit the sufferers? These questions are borderline unanswerable, but they refuse to go away.

Under Jerry Heymann’s tight direction, the little battles fought in the living rooms and kitchens no longer seem trivial. In their own way, domestic negotiations are as important as the larger crises raging in the world. Nagrant movingly captures Sarah’s battered idealism, her unspoken hurts, the blend of romanticism and trench-worn toughness with which she pursues her calling. Equally compelling, Long embodies James’s disillusion and resilience, his ambivalent relationship with the high ideals that both drive and drain him. The two leads receive ample support from the supporting cast. DeGraw strikes both the fatherly and conniving aspects of and editor’s persona with equal authenticity. As the uncorrupted Mandy, Abdullina provides both comic relief and a voice of hope. Brian Dudkiewicz’s sets Ashleigh Poteat lighting add realism and panache to this memorable production.

TIME STAND STILL continues through February 24, 2018 at 13th Street Rep,  50 W 13th Street New York, NY 10011 between 5th and 6th Avenues. Tickets: tssplay. brown-papertickets.com

Advertisements

THE CHEKHOV DREAMS

5

Written by John McKinney
Directed by Leslie Kincaid Burby

Though it’s in need of some judicious trimming, John McKinney’s engagingly surreal romcom largely succeeds in building a delectable Dagwood sandwich of multiple genres, archetypes and conventions. The play’s premise and tone bring to mind both the metaphysical mayhem of BLITHE SPIRIT and the fantasy-vs-reality tension of PLAY IT AGAIN, SAM. But THE CHEKHOV DREAMS takes these themes to unexpected, often lyrical places, and the wit and tenderness with which McKinney renders his vibrant characters  give the audience both an enjoyable ride and something to talk about after the curtain falls.

Ever since the untimely death of his fiancé Kate, Jeremy (Dana Watkins), has been living a life of purposeless squalor. Living on an inheritance, he seldom cleans – let alone leaves – his apartment, and avoids any meaningful connection with other people. He only feels alive in his dreams, where he and Kate (Elizabeth Inghram) are reunited. These nocturnal rendezvous have a dark undercurrent, though. Kate wants Jeremy to commit suicide, so he can join her in the afterlife. A tug of war ensues as Jeremy’s hedonistic brother Eddie (Christian Ryan) attempts to pull him towards life. The opposite of mopey Jeremy, Eddie leads a life of perpetual motion, indulging his voracious appetite for booze, cocaine and kinky sex clubs. At Eddie’s insistence, Jeremy gets back to work on his unfinished novella and enrolls in an acting class. His scene partner Chrissy (Charlotte Stoiber), is sincere and enthusiastic, but the material they’re assigned, proves problematic. It’s a scene from THE SEAGULL, and Jeremy can’t stand Chekhov. In one of the play’s funniest diatribes, he takes the Russian master to task for his ponderous plots, morose characters and florid dialogue. Still, Chrissy manages to convince him to make an effort: the words are supposed to be empty on the page. It’s up to the actors breathe life into them as they find the emotional truth of the scene. For Jeremy and newly-engaged Chrissy, that truth is an uncomfortable one. Like Trigorin and Nina, they are falling in love. Once the possessive Kate finds out about the new woman in Jeremy’s life, she ratchets up her tactics. No longer content to stay on her side of the consciousness line, she begins popping up unexpectedly in the real world as well. Even sleep brings scant from stress, as Jeremey’s reveries with Kate are increasingly disrupted by none other than the good Dr. Chekhov himself (Rik Walter). With his nerves in a state of emergency, our troubled protagonist must figure out a way simultaneously find an ending for his book, unearth the real meaning of the SEAGULL scene, and free himself from the seductive grip of his otherworldly lover’s icy fingers. That’s a hell of a to do list, and it’s no wonder he’s tempted to opt for oblivion instead. Luckily, both the subconscious and everyday worlds have a few more tricks up their respective sleeves.

Under Leslie Kincaid Burby’s thoroughgoing direction, the actors remain scrupulously devoted to Chekov’s admonition not to act, but to feel. Balancing disarming vulnerability with sharp comedic skills, Watkins provides the show with a solid emotional core. His understated intensity is adroitly counterbalanced by Ingrham’s cold allure and Stoiber’s winning spontaneity, as well the broader drollery of Ryan and Walter. They are given a fanciful and picturesque world to play in thanks to Scott Aronow’s protean set design, A. Christina Giannini’s opulent costumes, and Diana Duecker’s mood-enhancing lighting.

THE CHEKHOV DREAMS continues through Feb 17, 2018 at The Beckett Theatre, 410 West 42nd Street, Between 9th and 10th Avenues, New York NY 10036.

Tickets: https:// http://www.telecharge.com/Off-Broadway/The-Chekhov-Dreams/Overview?&aid=ven000193900