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Theater review: 'Time Stands Still' tackles the limitations of time to heal wounds

"Time Stands Still" is now showing at the Duluth Playhouse through June 11. Photo by Duluth Playhouse

In "Time Stands Still," the timely drama that opened Thursday at the Playhouse, photojournalist Sarah Goodwin (Cheryl Skafte) and writer James Dodd (John Pokrzywinski) have come home after Sarah is severely injured by a car bomb in Iraq.

Dealing with a near-death experience requires physical and psychological rehabilitation, but Sarah bears the burden of extra baggage because James feels immense guilt over having already gone home before she was injured.

That bomb blast has brought her future as a photojournalist into conflict with their romantic relationship in this compelling drama.

When their editor, Richard Ehrlich (Michael Kraklio), drops by to check on them he brings, his new and much-younger girlfriend, Mandy Bloom (KT Magnolia). Richard and Mandy's relationship offers a look into a glass darkly for Sarah and James. They confront a fork in the road, but is it before them or already behind them?

From the moment she takes the stage with her crutches, Skafte makes it abundantly clear that Sarah is an exposed raw nerve. Time and time again, Skafte would set her face before launching into her lines, as if Sarah was composing her features for a photograph.

It soon becomes clear that James has a definite agenda for both their professional and personal lives, and Pokrzywinski's best moments come when he unleashes torrents of words to overwhelm Sarah into submission.

Mandy is a chatterbox millennial whose knowledge of the world is apparently limited to personal experiences, which does not stop her from giving her opinion very decidedly. But Magnolia makes Mandy grow on us. Richard is the easiest going character on stage, but when James turns on him, Kraklio shows Richard can give as good as he can take.

Dualities abound in this play. A baby or a book? An argument about the ethics of a photograph in the first act echoes in a confession about a different photograph in the second.

The myriad debates are fascinating because I found many of the arguments being advanced to be flawed. These are not fights about who is most right; they instead come down to who is least wrong.

The play is set in the present, and this week's headlines about the terrorist bomb in Kabul amply evidences that correspondents and photojournalists being in harm's way is not going to change in the foreseeable future.

Director Julie Ahasay has asked her cast to maintain a brisk pace from start to finish, and there are only one or two places where the pacing is so fast the emotions override the verbiage.

All the pre-show and intermission songs have "time" in the title, running the gamut from Pink Floyd to David Bowie to Jim Croce and beyond. The incidental music in the show is pointedly composed of songs by the Civil Wars.

The most striking aspect of Ashley Wereley's scenic design for the brick walled Brooklyn apartment is that there is nothing to see outside the massive windows. The effect heightens the sense that Sarah and James are insulated and isolated from the world in which they work.

If you go

• What: "Time Stands Still" by Donald Margulies

• When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday through June 11

• Where: Duluth Playhouse, 506 W. Michigan St.

• Tickets: $30 at duluthplayhouse.org

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