"Time Stands Still"

By: Donald Margulies
Produced by: TheatreWorks
When: August 22 through September 16, 2012
Where: Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro Street (at Mercy), Mountain View
Tickets: $23-$73; call 650-463-1960 or visit
Generally, Rebecca Dines is a beautiful woman. Read about how makeup artist Tanya Finkelstein and other creative smarties at TheatreWorks made Dines look like she had, indeed, been blown up by a roadside bomb.
Rebecca Dines spoke with Regarding Arts a while back. Read what she had to say about her life.
Read Robert Hurwitt's excellent review at SF Gate.

Time Stands Still
Tracy Martin / TheatreWorks
Mark Anderson Phillips, left, and Rebecca Dines in "Time Stands Still" for TheatreWorks. The play, about a pair of war correspondents trying to rebuild their lives after horrible trauma, plays at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts from August 22 through September 16, 2012.
Deeply moving performances
illuminate 'Time Stands Still'
Mark Anderson Phillips, Rebecca Dines
are magnificent in Donald Margulies play
August 28, 2012

The last time Rebecca Dines and Mark Anderson Phillips were on stage together for TheatreWorks was for "The 39 Steps," in the 2012-11 season.

Light-hearted, hilarious, silly. They were great in it.

On Saturday night, they opened "Time Stands Still" for TheatreWorks.

And while Donald Margulies' play has its humorous moments — plenty of laughter filled the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts — there is nothing silly about it at all. It is deep, emotionally powerful and very moving.

Dines and Phillips are great in it.

In fact, "Time Stands Still" is a chance for audiences to see major, powerful performances that bring to life the many layers of meaning in Margulies' excellent script, through the inspired work of director Leslie Martinson and her cast.

This four-hander play, also starring Rolf Saxon and Sarah Moser, is an acting powerhouse — go see it just to see the amazing, stunning performances.

Saxon and Moser are excellent — but Dines and Phillips are astounding, putting on stage the kind of acting that leads to adrenalin rushes in the audience. Here are human beings, stripped to their essence, delivering raw blood, bone and majesty before our eyes.

Dines and Phillips play photo journalist Sarah Goodwin and freelance journalist James Dodd, and as we first meet them, they are just entering their Brooklyn loft apartment.

Time Stands Still
Mark Kitaoka / TheatreWorks
Mark Anderson Phillips, left, and Rebecca Dines in "Time Stands Still."

Sarah is on crutches, one leg in a brace, and her face and arms covered in grotesque scarring. She was caught by a roadside bomb in a war zone. Medevaced out, woke up weeks later in a hospital.

It takes longer to realize it, but James is perhaps even more injured, although emotionally and mentally, not so much physically.

In a sense, "Time Stands Still" is about the trauma of war — not as happens with soldiers, but as happens to those who cover it. In fact, a key point of the play is discussion about the role journalists perform — that they aren't there to change history, they are there to record it.

But in another sense, "Time Stands Still" is a relationship play, about a long-time couple who have been through major trauma, and how they each react to it and evolve.

A subtle bit: We're all used to seeing actors scurrying about when the lights go down between scenes, doing their own stage-hand work, moving props and preparing for the next scene. At the first scene change for "Time Stands Still," Phillips alone does all that — he runs around, setting up laptop computers, scattering notes on a table, getting set.

In the darkness of the scene change, we see Dines painfully, awkwardly, crutch-limping to her next position. It works. We feel her pain, we are with her in her agony. It's mesmerizing. We are hooked.

When the lights come up, Dines fully realizes her highly intelligent, prickly, driven photographer. She is impatient, angry about her lover's almost suffocating care of her. She wants to do things herself, get through therapy, and get moving. She wants to accomplish things, now.

Phillips, as the writer, has another set of issues to deal with. He's decided the next thing he wants to write is "The New Cinema of Cruelty," about how the movies "are a good barometer of the political climate of the day." Maybe he's had enough of real wars and refugees.

He's already finished his story about a terrible refugee situation, and is waiting to hear back from a magazine about it.

He tells Sarah about his movie/politics piece. Just in casual conversation, she accidently tears it apart with just a few words, and we watch him deflate as she apologizes. She loves him, after all, and is not quite yet aware that he is suffering more than he is letting on.

Into this tableau come Richard (Saxon), an old friend and photo editor, and his new, young lover, Mandy (Moser). Richard is walking on eggshells, worried about Sarah. Mandy is, seemingly, a light-weight, compared to the other three. She actually brings inflated balloons for the battle-hardened journalists.

"I love looking at passports," she says. "All the cool stamps."

Later, Richard defends his choice of new girlfriend, compared to his previous lover: "Astrid was brilliant. Okay? But you know what? Fuck brilliant! I've done brilliant. I'm sick of analyzing every goddamned thing to death. Deciding where to go eat was like ... arbitration. ... Too much work. I want something simple for a change."

But as it turns out, while Mandy is mostly sweetness and light, she also brings some key issues to the fore. After being shocked by Sarah's photograph of a dying boy, she is horrified that Sarah didn't do more to help the boy.

"Maybe if she took him to the hospital instead of taking his picture," she asks, desperately.

"Rescue workers were there for that," Sarah says.

"But how could you just stand there?"

"I wasn't just standing there."

"The boy was dying! He was dying!"

"He would have died no matter what I did. And I wouldn't have gotten the picture."

"You could have been helping them."

"I was helping them; I was taking their picture."

That, of course, is an old argument about journalism. Should they just record, or take part?

And it is a continuing issue for Sarah and James.

We come to know that he has had enough of war zones and horrors. He wants to stay in America and be comfortable. Sarah is still burning with the desire to get out there and bring the story back.

And, we learn what happened before the lights went up on Act I.

James had been traumatized, shell-shocked by an explosion, and was back in the United States when Sarah was injured in a different explosion. He flew to the hospital in Germany and sat with her while she was in a weeks-long induced coma. Then he brought her back to the United States.

Phillips' speech about what happened to James that made him a shell-shocked mess is like an explosion on stage. It is enormous, a brilliant portrayal of Margulies' excellent script.

Phillips and Dines, throughout, are amazing. He manages to show his internal injuries, his ongoing struggles in subtle ways that aren't always reflected in dialogue. He's hoping for a new life with Sarah, and working toward that. She is bull-heading through all, with occasional moments of trying to be tender and helpful to her longtime lover.

Their transitional moments, the times when they are deciding their lives, are built on great acting.

They have astounding moments — long moments between lines of dialogue, for instance, when they are just staring at each other, moments that grab the audience by the neck and drag them along into the meaning of the story.

It's the kind of acting that makes the theater special.

Saxon and Moser are also excellent. This play has no throw-away lines or moments. Everything is meaningful, and every performer delivers with awe-inspiring skill.

Everybody's been excited about Erik Flatmo's set — it is the artist's loft to dream of, with lots of open space and an entire wall of painted-over windows. It annoyed me that there were no photographs hanging on the walls. So, I polled some pro photographers I know. Two of seven said they seldom kept photos hanging. So, maybe that can be forgiven. Still, it bothered me. Should be photos on the wall.

The lighting design by Michael Palumbo, is impressive. It moves the story along, which is saying something. Anna R. Oliver managed the challenge of costume design with panache.

Kudos to Martinson for selecting this cast, and for leading the cut-crystal delivery of this fine script.

Email John Orr at

Time Stands Still
Mark Kitaoka / TheatreWorks
Rolf Saxon as Richard Ehrlich and Sarah Moser as his girlfriend Mandy Bloom greet their friends, Rebecca Dines as photojournalist Sarah Goodwin and Mark Anderson Phillips as her partner James Dodd, from left, in "Time Stands Still" at TheatreWorks, August 22 through September 16, 2012.