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THEATER REVIEW: North Coast Rep’s “Time Stands Still”

Time may stand still when the shutter snaps, but now it's just dragging for war photographer Sarah (Mhari Sandoval), sent home from Iraq to recover from a car bomb which took the life of her "fixer” and interpreter Tariq and left her with broken bones, facial lacerations and pangs of guilt over his death.

Now she shares her New York loft with freelance journalist and lover of eight-plus years Jamie (Francis Gercke), shell-shocked himself and home on leave, but still beating himself up over leaving Iraq earlier and not being there to protect her.

Self-sufficiency is a byword for Sarah, and this trying time of forced rest and – even worse – dependency has soured her disposition a bit. Almost everything Jamie does to help seems to make it worse.

The San Diego premiere of Donald Margulies’ “Time Stands Still” plays through March 17 at North Coast Repertory Theatre, directed by David Ellenstein.

Enforced inaction can be annoying, but does offer time to reassess one’s life and decide what to do with the rest of it. Sarah can’t wait to get back to Iraq; Jamie seems to show a bit of a homing instinct and is hoping she will at last agree to marry him.

Sarah has been dodging visit requests from her editor Richard (John Nutten), but finally Jamie buzzes him up. Well, that would be them, as the boss appears with his new squeeze, a young and relentlessly upbeat innocent named Mandy (Stacey Hardke). This brings quizzical looks and raised eyebrows between Sarah and Jamie.

“I’m an event planner,” Mandy offers, to which Sarah replies acidly, “I guess you can say I’m into events too – wars, famines, genocides...”

Later, flipping through a book about the war with Sarah’s pictures and Jamie’s prose, Mandy is horrified by a photo of a young mother with a dying child, musing that taking them to the hospital might have been more helpful than snapping their photo.

“Time Stands Still” is deceptive little story full of ethical time bombs like this, delivered almost off-the-cuff but demanding consideration.

Sandoval – not seen on local stages for a few decades – is perfect as Sarah, the redheaded pistol with a smart mouth and (at least until Mandy opens her mouth) an unflappable conviction that what she does needs to be done.

Hardke has a tough assignment: making the audience care about this ditzy child-woman (Sarah dismisses her as “embryonic”) who just wants home and family and seems so out of place among this trio of seasoned veterans of life, love and war. But Hardke proves up to the task.

The part of Richard, Sarah’s middle-aged photo editor who chooses Mandy over life in the fast lane because he has tired of women with whom “deciding where to go to eat was like arbitration,” is a bit underwritten but well performed by Nutten.

The question for Jamie is whether he, she or they will return to their dangerous assignments. Jamie – kindly, well-meaning, and still in love with Sarah – finds himself more than ambivalent about returning to the war zone. Gercke portrays the changes convincingly.

Time doesn’t stand still, and neither does the world. But we all have our place in it.

“You actually believe anything you do will change anything?” Jamie asks Sarah.

“It has to,” she answers.

Margulies gives us questions to ponder.

The details

“Time Stands Still” plays through March 17 at North Coast Repertory Theatre, 987 Lomas Santa Fe Drive, Solana Beach.

Wednesday at 7 pm; Thursday and Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 2 and 8 pm; Sunday at 2 and 7 pm.

Tickets: (858) 481-1055 or visit HERE.

To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.