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Time Stands Still

Peter Palmisano and Kristen Tripp Kelley in the Kavinoky production of "Time Stands Still."

All of us have people in our personal worlds whose lives and careers impress us to the point of envy. But if pressed, would we change places? The immediate response may be, “Hell yes!” but over the long haul, once we consider what they gave up to get where they are, what we would have to give up to change roles, the lives of others seldom seem that attractive.

In Time Stands Still, the play by Pulitzer Prize winner Donald Margulies running at the Kavinoky Theatre through this weekend, we meet Sarah, a world-renowned photojournalist, just home from Iraq. She’s recovering from being injured by a roadside bomb. Her boyfriend, James, who is nursing her, is guilt-ridden. He left Iraq, having had a kind of breakdown. A noted journalist in his own right, he now has doubts about his career and future. This is an uber-couple. The two most likely to succeed, who did. So what’s wrong?

Enter Richard. He is Sarah’s editor and shows up with Mandy, his new girlfriend—and put the emphasis on girl. This child has lightweight written all over her. Mandy is hugely impressed with Sarah but barely able to carry on an intelligent conversation with her. Richard’s attraction to Mandy is clearly indicative of a midlife crisis.

And so these characters come together for a provocative, lively, and engaging evening of theater.

The Kavinoky has long been a bastion of serious and thought-provoking theater, interspersed with an irresistible sense of play. Time Stands Still is a recent Broadway hit, and the Kavinoky has given it a splendidly smart production under the direction of Robert Waterhouse.

As compared to the Broadway production, what I love about Time Stands Still at the Kavinoky is the way it highlights the complexity of the characters. Every person in this world is likeable, but with frustrating failings and appealing virtues.

Laura Linney played Sarah on Broadway nearly as an ice queen and monster. She was extraordinary and earned a Tony nomination for her effort. Kristen Tripp Kelley, by contrast, has found the warmth and vulnerability of the woman. At first she condescends to Mandy in maddening fashion, but eventually we see her take a liking to the girl, admire her, even envy her. This adds to the complexity of Sarah’s life, and imbues it with a note of true tragedy. Sarah is incapable of living a life like Mandy’s, or of savoring its simple pleasures.

Why does Sarah continue to include her disapproving father in her life? Why does she return to war zones again and again? Why does she reject the love of the man who adores her? She is her own worst enemy.

The play suggests that we are all our own worst enemies and that we are all incapable of realizing it. Miss Tripp Kelley walks the line brilliantly.

We visit with Sarah at her stop time moment, but we get glimpses into the futures of all the other characters. None has a future that is secure. The happiness of a frozen moment cannot endure.

Mandy seems to have figured it all out—but so had Sarah at her age. What will happen in 10 years, or even in five? The same goes for everyone on stage. The smart decisions we make today, can return to torment once time has passed.

This able cast is also populated by Guy Balotine as James, Chrissy Golab as Mandy, and Peter Palmisano as Richard. Each is likable, yet nuanced. Each could be the center of his or her own play. Indeed, a great deal of the pleasure of Time Stands Still is the opportunity to watch finely contoured characters rendered by excellent actors.

Times Stands Still continues this weekend only, Thursday and Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 4pm and 8pm, Sun at 2pm, at the Kavinoky Theatre (320 Porter Avenue, 829-7668).