News & Articles
2011-2012, Volume 5
Welcome to Time Stands Still
by Artistic Director Martha Lavey
Chris Hedges was a foreign correspondent for fifteen years. In his book War is a Force That Gives us Meaning, he recounts his time in war zones, writing:
“War and conflict have marked most of my adult life... I have seen too much of violent death. I have tasted too much of my own fear. I have painful memories that lie buried most of the time. It is never easy when they surface.” The enduring attraction of war is this: even with its destruction and carnage, it gives us what we all long for in life. It gives us purpose, meaning, a reason for living. Only when we are in the midst of conflict does the shallowness and vapidness of our lives become apparent. Trivia dominates our conversations and increasingly our news. And war is an enticing elixir. It gives us resolve, a cause. It allows us to be noble. And those that have the least meaning in their lives... are all susceptible to war’s appeal.”
Having read Hedges’ book years ago, I felt its shimmer throughout my reception of Donald Margulies’ Time Stands Still. Hedges argues that war is a seduction: on a society in support of what he regards as our collective fiction of purpose; and on those individuals who engage directly in the conflict—combatants and correspondents alike. Time Stands Still sits at the center of our season, “Dispatches from the Homefront,” and the play succinctly captures the duality we are exploring and which Hedges articulates so clearly from his own experience as a war correspondent: what archetypal psychologist James Hillman calls “our terrible love of war.”
In Margulies’ play, the central character, Sarah Goodwin, is a photojournalist who returns injured from her stint in Iraq. The play bears witness to her re-entry into her life in New York with her partner, James Dodd, himself a freelance journalist, and covers the first year of her life back in the States. Their relationship is balanced against the relationship of their friend and colleague, Richard Ehrlich, with his young girlfriend, Mandy Bloom.
The contrast is stark. Sarah is fierce, unforgiving, driven, independent. When Richard defends his relationship with Mandy, an event planner, by reminding Sarah, “You were young once, too, you know...” Sarah tartly replies, “I was never like that... There’s young and there’s... embryonic. This girl is a lightweight. She’s a lightweight, Richard.” Sarah finds herself impatient with Mandy’s naïve cheer and incredulous that Richard, her long-time friend and colleague, older than she, could be satisfied by a relationship with a woman he describes as “guileless,” “open,” and (perhaps most damningly), “hot!” He defies Sarah’s attempt to shame him, declaring, “Richard’s got himself a hot girlfriend! How do you like that? Now I’ll know what it’s like! I can die happy. Look: I love you and I’m glad you’re alive, but you know what? I don’t give a shit what you think.”
I will resist outlining the outcome of the play’s narrative because there is much pleasure in discovering that as the play proceeds. Margulies has provided a wonderfully human story of the contrasting values around which the characters in his play construct their lives. What is impressive about his exploration of these characters is the surprising integrity he is able to grant to each of them. The play serves as a kind of wake-up call to each of us. What do we value? What does the hardship of the world demand of us in organizing our values? Is the simple happiness of love a naïve denial of the human cruelties that war makes so vivid? Is war itself a kind of addiction—a heightened state of being that produces an urgency against which contentment will always seem a trivial pursuit?
I encourage you to explore Hedges’ book, War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning and James Hillman’s A Terrible Love of War. As Hillman says,
“If we want war’s horror to be abated so that life may go on, it is necessary to understand and imagine. We humans are the species privileged in regard to understanding. Only we have the faculty and the scope for comprehending the planet’s quandaries.”
Donald Margulies’ Time Stands Still is one such imagining. He makes personal this fundamental collision between the extremity and intensity of war the moment when time stands still through the photographic lens of Sarah’s camera and the life that must go on in the imperfect flow of our days. War and the homefront: our mutually defining realities and the crucible of our values.