Sunday, February 3, 2013

Theatre is Alive and Well in Southwest Florida

I have a passion for live theatre - have had since I was a kid and my parents participated in a local theatre group. I remember my dad's pride when he received a letter from Jimmy Stewart regarding his (dad's) upcoming role in the play Harvey. Elwood P. Dowd was the quintessential role for Stewart but, all dolled up in a frothy dress and patent leather shoes, ensconced in my front row seat, I was convinced that the role was made for my dad. Mom was no slouch either, often strutting her great legs across the stage in some glam role that was far from her daytime persona as the high strung, high school English teacher.

Over the past few years I'm afraid that I've grown complacent, guarding my Sundays and oh, too few Saturdays off, rarely caring to leave the house except to sit in the yard and read. But yesterday, thanks to an NPR interview that Don heard earlier in the week, we got ourselves down to Florida Repertory Theatre ( to witness a performance of an amazing piece of writing by Tony and Pulitzer award winner Donald Margulies. Time Stands Still is a play that will force you to think and discuss long after you've left the studio. In fact, it would make a great book discussion and reminded me of one of my favorite novels last year, Tatjana Soli's The Lotus Eaters which I blogged about here.

Sarah and James are deeply damaged people. He, emotionally scarred and she, physically. Their relationship is fraught with their mutual knowledge of the past and their fear of the future. Journalists, he writes, she takes photographs, they have been together for over eight years, traveling through the war torn middle east documenting the havoc unleashed by the United States in its search for Saddam's weapons of mass destruction.

We learn that James has suffered an emotional breakdown from the endless trauma of his work. While back in New York City he hears that Sarah has been badly injured by a roadside bomb and the months he spends at her bedside stir something in him that he hasn't acknowledged before, the need for stability. But as Sarah, acerbic, stubborn and jaded, begins to heal, anxious to return to work, James becomes bogged down with writer's block, more controlling while she pulls away, and we the audience begin to sense the train wreck that lies ahead.

The perfect foil to Sarah's abrasiveness is the much younger, bright-eyed, optimistic Mandy, the new woman in Richard's life. Richard has a long history with James and Sarah, best friend, confidant and publisher of their work. He, like James, has tired of the horrors of war, the helplessness in the face of such suffering, and looks to Mandy for a respite from the cares of the world. Sarah scoffs, James envies, tensions rise.

This powerful, two hour play, raises many questions yet answers none. Why are some people drawn to the dark side? Can one become addicted to horror and violence? Or is the term inured? What of the ethical decision to photograph an atrocity, to bear witness if you will, rather than to try to stop it? How much influence does one person really have? Must we all share the collective guilt of a country that set in motion the devastation of others?

At one point Mandy plaintively begs James and Sarah to open their eyes to the beauty of the world. It's a gorgeous point in the play where, I might add, I saw several young women with kleenex subtly in hand. Mandy, no longer the naive girl with the admittedly narrow world view, becomes an adult before our eyes, blooming in her pregnancy, ready to give life to a new generation.

After the play we had a lively discussion with a fellow audience member who was incensed at what she felt was a judgment by the playwright about the two women's choices. I disagreed. I felt that both women made legitimate decisions about their futures that were right for them. In fact, I thought that Sarah gave life too, in her way. Her photographs gave life to the suffering of others, not a small thing. But why don't you decide? The play will run for two more weeks here in Ft. Myers or you can get a copy at your local library. Check it out. Let's talk!

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