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Time Stands Still
by Donald Margulies
Directed by Doug Finlayson
New Jewish Theatre
March 28, 2019

Ben Nordstrom, Wendy Greenwood
Photo by Phillip Hamer
New Jewish Theatre

New Jewish Theatre’s latest production is a look at relationships in several different aspects. Time Stands Still examines romantic relationships, as well as a people’s relationships with their work and their callings in life. It’s also an especially timely play in terms of its subject matter in various ways. On stage in St. Louis, NJT’s production is particularly compelling and impeccably cast.

The play and this production are notable for their realism. The first thing that stands out, even before the action begins, is John Stark’s detailed set that accurately represents a small but well-appointed Brooklyn loft. Playwright Donald Margulies is also meticulous in his script, with richly defined characters and vivid, emotional, and highly credible dialogue, tracking what seems to be about a year in the lives of the characters, who are both journalists. Sarah (Wendy Greenwood), a photographer, and her boyfriend, reporter James (Ben Nordstrom), live together in the loft, but they have apparently spent little time there recently as both had been on assignment in the Middle East, although James had come home earlier than Sarah. The play begins as Sarah, who was wounded in a bombing shortly after James left, returns home, and the two try to settle into a more “normal” life away from the dangers of war zones as Sarah recovers from her injury and James tries to finish several writing projects. They’re also struggling in various ways with how to resume–and define–their relationship following various traumatic events. Meanwhile, their friend and magazine editor Richard (Jerry Vogel) encourages them in documenting their experiences and also introduces his new, younger girlfriend Mandy (Eileen Engel), an event planner whose outlook on life is decidedly different from theirs.  The play deftly examines various themes–the dynamics of relationships and how career goals, life attitudes, and traumatic events can affect them, as well as artists’ and writers’ relationship with their art and also questions concerning covering troubling world events and whether or not that coverage makes a difference in public perception and encouraging activism and change. These seem like a lot of topics to cover in one play, but Margulies manages to do so in a seamless way while making the characters credible and relatable at the same time.

In terms of credibility, the performances are also essential even with the excellent script. Here, all four cast members are strong, with excellent emotional range from both Greenwood and Nordstrom, who display strong and throughly believable chemistry throughout all stages of their relationship. Vogel and Engel are also impressive, providing a striking contrast and an example for James and Sarah of what they could be if they so chose. The ensemble chemistry is strong and the energy is taut and palpable. It’s a truly impressive cast.

The technical aspects of the production, in addition to the set, are also strong. The excellent, evocative lighting by Michael Sullivan effectively portrays the change in seasons and passage of time, as well as setting the mood in various scenes. The costumes by Michele Siler are suitable and, as in keeping with the general tone of the play, realistic as well. The play is set in 2009, and there are some nice little touches like the small flat-screen TV that help to convey the sense of time and place.. There’s also crisp sound design by Zoe Sullivan.

Time Stands Still is an intense, thought-provoking play. It’s a highly emotional, vivid portrayal of characters who have been in intense situations and have differing reactions and life goals. On stage at New Jewish Theatre, it’s a memorable and compelling theatrical experience.

Wendy Greenwood, Jerry Vogel, Ben Nordstrom, Eileen Engel
Photo by Phillip Hamer
New Jewish Theatre

New Jewish Theatre is presenting Time Stands Still at the Marvin & Harlene Wool Studio Theatre at the JCC’s Staenberg Family Complex until April 14, 2019

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Sight Unseen
by Donald Margulies
Directed by Bobby Miller
New Jewish Theatre
March 12, 2015

Aaron Orion Baker, Emily Baker Photo by Eric Woolsey New Jewish Theatre

Aaron Orion Baker, Emily Baker
Photo by Eric Woolsey
New Jewish Theatre

New Jewish Theatre’s current production may be called Sight Unseen, but it would be a shame to miss this show. An intense, highly personal look at relationships between people, as well as between artists and their art, the show boasts a top-notch cast and excellent production values. It’s a show that equally engages the emotions and the mind, and New Jewish theatre has presented it in a supremely excellent way.

The story is told in non-linear fashion, showing key moments in the lives of painter Jonathan Waxman (Aaron Orion Baker) and his ex-lover, Patricia (Emily Baker).  As the play opens, the now-famous Jonathan has come to visit Patricia and her English husband, Nick (David Wassilak) at their farmhouse in Norfolk while Jonathan is preparing to open a show at a museum in London.  The show then jumps between the farm house just before and just after the opening scene, and also a few days later at the museum, where Jonathan is being interviewed by young German reporter Grete (Em Piro) concerning the subject matter and content of his art.  There are also two earlier flashbacks, to a pivotal moment in Jonathan’s relationship with Patricia 13 years earlier, and also to a day two years before that, shortly after they met, as Jonathan works on a painting that Patricia posed for.  Through the course of the play, issues are explored such as Jonathan’s identity as an artist, and as a Jewish American, and also his relationship not just with Patricia and his unseen wife and deceased parents, but also with fame and the expectations of his benefactors.  Patricia has her own problems to deal with as well, and Nick has to sit by and watch his wife still struggle with residual feelings for her former lover, as well as the constant reminder of those feelings in the form of the painting Jonathan painted of her when they were still students.

The structure of this play, while it jumps around in time and place, makes a lot of sense in the context of the drama, and the clever set by Dunsi Dai makes use of the stage to the utmost dramatic effect. The main performance area is the farmhouse setup, ideally rustic and warm, and when the museum setting is needed, more modern, artsy-type furniture is brought in.  There’s also another performance space in the corner of the space opposite the main stage, which serves as Jonathan’s bedroom in one of the flashback sequences. The costumes, designed by Michele Friedman Siler, are equally detailed and evocative, from Grete’s funky Euro-sophisticate look to Nick’s more laid-back attire, and Jonathan’s increasingly rich wardrobe as the years pass. The technical elements of this production work together with the excellent staging and acting to create a vivid world that the characters inhabit and in which issues of relationship and identity are played out and explored.

The four person cast is in excellent form.   Aaron Orion Baker and Emily Baker, who are married in real life, display very strong chemistry as Jonathan and Patricia. The awkwardness and latent animosity is clear (especially on her part), but so is an obvious undercurrent of unfinished, wistful affection.  Mr. Baker plays Jonathan as jaded and self-absorbed in the “present day” scenes, while maintaining the sense that he was once a more idealistic and dedicated young artist, which we are shown in the earliest flashbacks. Mrs. Baker, as Patricia, shows and convincing outward display of inner conflict as she’s torn between her past and her present, as well as between the man she still wants and the man who is probably much better for her.  Wassilak is engagingly sympathetic as the initially reserved but devoted Nick, providing a contrast to the more polished Jonathan. Piro rounds out the cast with a memorable performance as the persistent German reporter who challenges Jonathan with some very difficult questions.

Although I had never heard of this play before, I’m impressed by its intensity and drama.  This is a production that manages to explore issues with depth and clarity while maintain a very realistic and human sense of drama.  It’s one of the more memorable productions I’ve seen this year. It’s an incisive portrayal of strained relationships and one man’s relationship with his art and with fame, and how this affects everyone else around him. Sight Unseen is truly a must-see.

Emily Baker, David Wassilak Photo by Eric Woolsey New Jewish Theatre

Emily Baker, David Wassilak
Photo by Eric Woolsey
New Jewish Theatre

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