Actors Bridge succeeds with Donald Margulies' fascinating if flawed Tony-nominated Time Stands Still 

The War Back Home

The War Back Home

The plays of Donald Margulies are permeated with an East Coast sensibility — once in Margulies' world, it's as if the rest of the U.S. doesn't exist. That's not a bad thing, as long as his dialogue is crackling (as it often is), and doesn't distract the audience with its occasional penchant for glibness or pretension.

Margulies' Time Stands Still, a 2010 Tony Award nominee, is currently making its local premiere at Actors Bridge Ensemble. Like Dinner With Friends, which won the playwright a Pulitzer in 2010, Time Stands Still features two couples in an emotional standoff, though the circumstances are radically different. 

The setting is the Brooklyn loft of photographer Sarah Goodwin, who at curtain's rise is being helped inside by longtime boyfriend James Dodd. Sarah's just returned from Iraq, where she was badly injured while covering the war. James, we learn, is a print journalist who has also reported on the horrors of the Middle East.

Professionally, they're tapped out, and Sarah is emotionally devastated, since her "fixer" — the man who served as her guide and interpreter — was killed in action. We soon learn he was also her lover, which provides further insight into the nature of Sarah and James' relationship: close friends who have shared a lot for eight years. Where they go from here is Margulies' biggest concern.

Enter the duo's longtime editor, Richard, a middle-aged vet of the New York magazine and book publishing wars, and his new girlfriend, Mandy, who is half his age, not to mention intellectually and emotionally off everyone else's radar screen. They represent the thoughtless joys of May-September romance and serve as the lighthearted counterpoint to the Sarah-James sturm und drang.

Fast-forward to Act 2. After some discussion about the cold-blooded, exploitative nature of the photojournalist's job — and the relative peace and personal fulfillment of a more domestic lifestyle — Sarah and James take the marriage plunge, and Mandy gets pregnant. 

The question now before us: Will Sarah and James survive in marital bliss?

Kim Bretton, star of several ABE plays in the recent era, makes her directorial debut here. Her staging is engaging and dramatic, and it's not her fault when the author's dialogue reads forced or exaggerated — or when his characters utter self-conscious nonsense, as when Richard dubs Sarah and James "the Sid and Nancy of journalism." (These people have personal problems, but it's nothing that extreme.)

The casting feels right. Vali Forrister is effective as the shell-shocked Sarah, battling to regain some semblance of normalcy. Bill Feehely is the editor with the generation-gap love affair, and he moves convincingly from tough-talking authority figure to New Age husband and father. Poured tightly into her jeans and perched high on her heels, Jillian Gottlieb — recently seen at Boiler Room Theatre in the musical Xanadu — portrays Mandy, representing Margulies' commentary on simpler, nurturing womanhood versus Sarah's hard-bitten, barren realism.

As James, Brian Schlanger provides the wild-card performance. It's the toughest role in the bunch, demanding the greatest emotional transition. Schlanger runs the gamut: tender, thoughtful and supportive, then whiny, sarcastic and spiteful. His lack of polish as an actor actually works to his advantage sometimes — it offers a believable gauge of James' raw angst and confusion. Other times, he struggles awkwardly to inject sincerity into the playwright's melodramatic speeches.  

J. P. Schuffman's evocative set design features marvelous furniture pieces (including a fabulous spiral lamp) from the collection of artist-woodworker David Knudtson.

Despite his excesses, Margulies still manages to profile his subjects and their concerns with a good measure of authenticity, and the hardworking Actors Bridge players cover a good deal of emotional terrain with this timely if flawed script. The play returns to Nashville April 20-May 4, 2013, as a part of Tennessee Repertory Theatre's upcoming season.  

Intern alert

Tennessee Repertory Theatre's internship program provides opportunities for young theater professionals to learn and ply their trade, both onstage and behind the scenes. The culminating event is their own stage production: This year, it's The Woman in Black, a ghostly thriller adapted by Stephen Mallatratt from the book by Susan Hill.

A middle-aged lawyer is haunted by events he experienced as a young man. Hoping to free himself from his nightmares, he hires an actor to help him tell his tale — only to learn that some demons can never be put to rest.

The show is directed by management intern Daniel DeVault, and the cast features veteran Nashville stage actor Rodney Pickel and marketing intern Sean Hills.

Performances are 7 p.m. May 20-22 at the Rep's rehearsal hall, located at Nashville Public Television's Studio A, 161 Rains Ave. For tickets, email represervations@gmail.com or call 244-4878.

 Email arts@nashvillescene.com.

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