Wednesday, February 13, 2013

TIME STANDS STILL Tomorrow at Heartland Theatre

You may recall Dinner with Friends, the Donald Margulies play that won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama back in 2000. In that play, Margulies took a sometimes comedic, sometimes serious look at two couples, longtime friends, and the repercussions in the lives of Couple No. 1 when Couple No. 2 split up. With a script that moved from the Humana Festival to an Off-Broadway production and then to HBO for a TV movie, Margulies showed a knack for understanding what makes relationships tick and what makes them explode.

He continues that quest to understand how we connect emotionally with other people, along with some added insight on how we connect emotionally with the world, in Time Stands Still, the 2010 Tony Award nominee that opens tomorrow night at Heartland Theatre.

On Broadway, Laura Linney played Sarah, the prickly photojournalist who was injured on the job while taking pictures of some far-off conflict, now returned to New York and wondering where she belongs, with whom, and under what circumstances. First she needs to heal on the outside, but then... Can she get married and "settle down" like normal people? Or is her mission in life to observe and record, but not get involved? How can she find a way to handle a life without bombs exploding and people dying every time she looks through her camera lens?

Cristen Susong
Cristen Susong, who has brought all kinds of warmth and charm to her roles in the past, will play Sarah for Heartland Theatre. This new character -- purposefully distant, sarcastic, antisocial -- seems like a bit of a departure for someone like Susong, who is quite clearly firmly connected to her family and her community. I asked Cristen whether she thought Sarah was as different from her as I did. After saying that she "can't help but get emotionally involved" in her world, Susong describes Sarah as "so able to compartmentalize. She takes the whole experience with Tariq [a colleague she lost] and she locks it away. She won't engage with the reality around her."

I think it's that distance, that lack of engagement, that Margulies was going for, both as an examination of the traditional role of a journalist -- to record and report, but not get involved or try to solve anything or save anyone -- and whether that's a healthy way to live, as well as a critical take on defense mechanisms. If looking at the world and its terrible troubles causes us pain, should we blind ourselves? If reaching out to other people causes us heartache, should we cut off the joy along with the sadness?

Sarah faces those questions in her relationship with her longtime boyfriend, James, played for Heartland by David Krostal, her editor, played by Harold Chapman, and the editor's much younger girlfriend, Mandy, played by Colleen Longo. Mandy looks at life from an opposite perspective from Sarah -- she's young, happy, naive, optimistic -- and that, too, gives Sarah pause.

The different moods in the script add up to a challenging directing assignment, but if anyone if up to it, it's veteran director Sandra Zielinski, who most recently took on Brecht's Mother Courage at Illinois State University, Chekhov's Three Sisters as a showcase for ISU's last class of MFA actors, and Joel Drake Johnson's dysfunctional family drama The End of the Tour for Heartland. End of the Tour also featured Cristen Susong, that time playing a wife, mother and daughter at the end of her rope. It was the family connections that were plaguing her in that play, and Sarah's life with no strings and no connections might've looked pretty attractive to poor Jan in The End of the Tour.

Time Stands Still opens tomorrow night at Heartland Theatre, with performances Thursday through Sunday from February 14 till March 3. For information about the play, click here. For reservation information, click here.

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