By Tessa Raebeck
While we often think of completed scripts as specific ideas that were long-brewing in the head then finally put to page, sometimes a new play can begin with an idea as simple as “A new play.” Donald Margulies started “Time Stands Still,” by writing that unassuming idea in his notebook, followed by “A loft,” and a series of questions that became a play framed in the extreme circumstance of the Iraq War, but cemented in questions that plague all relationships.
Presented by the Hampton Theatre Company, “Time Stands Still” will open Thursday, January 8, at the Quogue Community Hall, the second production in the company’s 30th anniversary season. Directed by Sarah Hunnewell, HTC Executive Director, the Tony Award nominated drama follows photojournalist Sarah Goodwin, who has returned home to Brooklyn after nearly being killed by an IED while covering the Iraq War. Sarah struggles to adapt to life at home with her partner James Dodd. A freelance journalist, James was also reporting on the war, but returned home before Sarah, traumatized by his own horrendous experience and on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
James, portrayed by John Carlin, takes care of Sarah, who was hurt by the explosion. As the longtime couple struggles to adapt to a new life together, they are contrasted by the blossoming, promising marriage of Sarah’s editor, Richard Erlich, played by John L. Payne, and his much younger girlfriend Mandy, played by Kate Kenney.
The couple’s respective experiences at war helped to create the issues they grapple with once back home, but their struggles are inherent to many relationships; one partner wants to settle down and lead a “normal” life, while the other aches for the action provided by his or her career.
“It’s really a love story,” said Ms. Hunnewell, the director, adding, “The intensity of the jobs these people do has raised the stakes in their domestic situation.”
As their desired paths diverge, Sarah and James struggle to find a way in which their love can be enough to sustain a relationship that is no longer practical.
“You can have the best intentions and you can actually really love someone, and sometimes it still doesn’t work out. It’s this really beautiful, bittersweet aspect of just, life sometimes has other things in mind,” said Mr. Carlin.
The four actors, who are all newcomers to the company, and Ms. Hunnewell are working to find the truths of their characters beyond what the script provides, from where they were born to whether they took the subway or a cab to get to the stage that day.
“What every actor tries to do,” said Mr. Payne, a Long Island native who plays Richard, “is to make the person a real human being, and a real human being has lots of stuff that they carry around with them—they have history from their previous life, they have history from that day.”
Despite the traumatic circumstances surrounding the play, there is much humor found in the script, often in the form of Richard and Mandy, Sarah’s 55-year-old editor and his 25-year-old fiancé, who are having a child together. The trials of James and Sarah’s love are counteracted by the ease of the story’s other couple.
For Sarah, “this is the most insane thing she’s ever heard in her life,” said Ms. Hunnewell, “but he is incredibly happy, so it’s a question of priorities and what works for one couple and doesn’t work for another. It’s a study in relationships of all kinds.”
At first appearing to be the standard, happy 25-year-old bride-to-be that is oft positioned as the natural nemesis to an older female, Mandy challenges Sarah in a much more human, and intriguing, manner. The significance of Sarah’s career in her own eyes is heightened by the sense that photographing the war helps the situation by telling its truth to the world, but Mandy questions the substance behind seeing the bloodshed.
“I guess,” said Ms. Hunnewell, “it could be said about the value of anyone’s work—particularly for workaholics and for people who just put work above everything—is what any of us actually do for work that important? Are we achieving something? Is it changing the world for the better, is it not changing the world for the better, and if a job is as dangerous as hers, is it worth it?”
“Time Stands Still” runs Thursday, January 8 through January 25 at the Quogue Community Hall. For more information and special dinner packages, visit hamptontheatre.org or call 1-866-811-4111.