If there was any doubt, The Liminal Playhouse‘s current production of Donald Margulies’ “Time Stands Still” has cemented its place in the highest echelons of Louisville’s independent theater scene. The company consistently produces exciting productions of riveting scripts, with a focus on new plays and a few plays that still feel new despite being a couple decades old.
“Time Stand Stills,” which examines the personal and professional lives of war correspondents in the Middle East, is blisteringly current. It asks questions about our responsibilities as humans in the face tragedy, and though I never even felt close to tired of the weightier philosophical discussions, the script by Margulies grounds the debate in intense personal relationships and emotional responses to violence and war.
The cast is led by Heather Green, who plays the main character of Sarah Goodwin. The first thing we see is Goodwin hobbling onto the stage, leg in a cast, arm braced and scars on her face. She’s just come home to New York after being severely injured by a roadside bomb.
Green sells the injuries so realistically, I felt myself wincing later in the play when one of the other actors leaned on her propped up leg. Her emotional injuries take a little longer to surface, but they were equally palpable.
David Galloway plays James Dodd, Goodwin’s longtime paramour. While she is a photographer, he’s a writer — an interesting juxtaposition the playwright mines with unexpected depth later in the play. Galloway is a regular on the Henry Clay stage, but this is his debut for Liminal.
He really shines in the piece, though there were a few times I felt like he emotionally hit 80 mph in moments that might have played a little better at 45. Still, he’s become an actor to look out for in the future.
As good as Green and Galloway were, there were some moments I lamented how young they are. The script deals extensively with the relative ages of the characters, so it’s really noticeable that while Goodwin and Dodd are supposed to be in the early to mid-40s, Green and Galloway appeared to be in their early to mid-30s tops. I’d rather have actors with the right skills than the right age, but it was jarring at times, especially when the script starts making a big deal about everyone’s age.
That big deal comes in the form of the relationship between Mandy Bloom (Katherine Martin) and Richard Ehrlich (Brent Gettelfinger). Ehrlich is a photo editor at a prestigious New York magazine, with whom Goodwin and Dodd have longstanding work relationships. They have an equally close personal friendship.
Bloom is Ehrlich’s very young girlfriend, probably about 20-30 years his junior. It’s a fact Goodwin and Dodd certainly notice, and the age difference plays into an outlook difference, which drives a lot of the interpersonal action of the piece.
Gettelfinger does fine work as Ehrlich, but in a play full of fireworks, he’s almost always soothing or appeasing someone else and never really gets a chance to explode.
Martin is perfectly adorable and frustrating as the young love interest. She gives us all the moments we expect from the “younger girlfriend” archetype, but grounds it and makes it feel real. She’s helped by the script, of course; as young and flighty as Bloom is, she manages to ask some of the most pointed and troubling questions in the play.
Director Tony Prince deserves a large share of the credit, not only as the director of the production but as the artistic director of Liminal Playhouse. Any good evening of theater needs to start with a good script, and Prince’s discerning taste is presumably evident in the quality of the company’s chosen materials.
Here, he modulates tone and pace carefully. In conjunction with Margulies’ script, he throws away the standard single peak of the accepted “rising action” structure. Instead, “Time Stands Still” presents a series of peaks and valleys. There are quiet moments when time stands still, but they crescendo quickly into moments of strife and fear.
Outside of the production, the script deserves one last round of praise. It’s rare to see deeper philosophical problems so neatly balanced and intertwined with personal moments that create an emotional life for the characters while still embodying the thematic elements.
This is, sadly, the end of Liminal’s current season, so we have to wait until the fall to see if they can continue to deliver the goods. Their next season has just been announced, and it looks like it’s going to be a good one. Season tickets are already on sale and are discounted through April 2.
But first, catch “Time Stands Still.” The production is quite good, and the questions it raises are questions we should all be asking ourselves as America continues to have a role in violent hot spots all over the world.
“Time Stand Still” continues March 30-April 1 at 7:30 p.m., and April 2 at 2 p.m., at the Henry Clay, 604 S. Third St. Tickets are $18 in advance, $20 at the door.