NJT’s ‘Time Stands Still’ is gripping and complex

Phillip Hamer Photography
NJT’s production of ‘Time Stands Still’


The old adage “a picture is worth a thousand words” aptly describes the overarching theme of the drama “Time Stands Still” by the gifted writer Donald Margulies. It is a powerful exploration of high-risk photojournalism and written coverage of real-time combat.

The play, which is showing through April 14 at the New Jewish Theater, is brought to the stage by a first-rate cast of four players who are directed with sensitivity and skill by Doug Finlayson.  

The action takes place in 2009 in a loft in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, N.Y. Sarah Goodwin (Wendy Renee Greenwood), a daring photojournalist, is returning from covering the Iraq War after having been severely wounded by a roadside bomb. Her reporter boyfriend, James Dodds (Ben Nordstrom), is waiting for her at their Brooklyn home. Like Sarah, he is traumatized by the war, and his PTSD is compounded by guilt over having left Iraq before she did.

Greenwood and Nordstrom are spot on in their complex, emotional and intellectual portrayals. 

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Sarah was obsessed with getting just the right shot of a war scene, even choosing to take the photo when she might have been able to intervene to save the war victims she was “shooting.”  That decision forces her to confront the morality of her work, which she has considered noble. Is she really trying to push back against the senselessness of war, or is she using its carnage to perhaps earn a Pulitzer Prize in spot photography? 

James, meanwhile, is suffering from writer’s block. He finds himself unable to write about the war, choosing instead to concentrate on producing geeky articles about 1950s horror movies, even though he and Sarah know that it is less about creativity than a way to occupy his long days.

Adding to the mix are Richard Ehrlich (Jerry Vogel), a photo editor and his too-young wife, Mandy Bloom (Eileen Engel). Richard is pressuring the traumatized couple to publish Sarah’s stunning photos with text by James.  Both have conflicted feelings about turning the sufferings of war victims into a coffee table book on glossy paper.

“Time Stands Still,” in dealing with journalists as casualties of the very wars they are covering, brings the two couples into focus by exploring their hidden agendas.  Sarah and James snarl at each other even while he struggles to help her get around on crutches and deal with the wounds on her face.

Richard, who complains of a bad first marriage, pushes back against the smug sarcasm of Sarah and James who ridicule his relationship with Mandy. Vogel and Engel bring their characters to life convincingly.

The four players circle each other like overheated tigers in a small cage. Their conflicts and arguments invite comparison to the characters in Edward Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” with Mandy equivalent to the seemingly clueless younger guest, Honey, who turns out to have hidden qualities of altruism that overpower the cynicism of Sarah and James.

Time indeed stands still in photographic images. Beneath their polished or grainy surfaces are the faces and bodies of real human beings who are more than just “good shots” for cameras.

NJT’s “Time Stands Still” is excellent theater and makes for an engrossing dramatic experience.