Sept. 21, 2017
Home / Articles / Arts / Acting Out /  Think Globally, Communicate Locally
Anson Stevens-Bollen

Think Globally, Communicate Locally

May 17, 2017, 12:00 am

When you take a photograph, time stands still. When you experience trauma, time stands still. When you die, we can only guess time stands still. And when you look at the United States’ history of international conflict, it seems like we are right where we have always been—time is standing still.

This is only scratching the surface of themes explored in Time Stands Still, opening this weekend at the Adobe Rose Theatre. The story follows Sarah, a photojournalist formerly embedded in a conflict zone, now home with her journalist boyfriend James as she recovers from injuries sustained while on assignment. Their jobs revolve around communicating with the public, but they’re suddenly unable to communicate with each other. Their friend Richard, also in the news industry, enters with stars in his eyes for his much younger girlfriend Mandy.

While this is still a very new play (it debuted in Los Angeles in 2009), playwright Donald Margulies recognized the potential for dramatic and swift changes in US foreign policy. Accordingly, say the ART actors, in his script notes Margulies offers companies the opportunity to adapt the conflict location to suit current events, ensuring that the play will always be relevant. It originally features Sarah fresh home from Iraq, but the ART team, under the direction of Catherine Lynch, has placed the conflict in Syria.

According to the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma at Columbia University, embedded correspondents experience PTSD symptoms at an alarming rate—some studies found that up to a third of journalists covering conflict were affected. It is their job not to look away.

Maureen Joyce McKenna and Kevin Kilner are Sarah and James in Time Stands Still, in which professional communicators struggle to communicate.
Donal McKenna

The cast, as part of their research, picked the brains of journalists and members of the military. Cast member and ART Artistic Director Maureen Joyce McKenna describes one of these meetings with a photographer: “I asked, ‘Weren’t you terrified?’ And she said, ‘No, I felt totally safe,’” McKenna recalls. “’I wasn’t there. The camera was there.’”

That level of detachment may be vital in a Humvee, but it doesn’t serve you once you’re stateside. Sarah, portrayed by McKenna, and James (Kevin Kilner, a seasoned stage and film actor who nonetheless admits this challenging play “scares the crap out of” him; “This play is like Everest”), explore these intricacies.

But, of course, there are greater political issues at play. “There’s something about being a woman in a man’s world,” McKenna says. “There aren’t very many women that are embedded photojournalists. My character has made a commitment to telling the stories of women and children who are just the flotsam and jetsam in this whole process. … It’s something that that deeply drew me to the role, because there are voices that are just not heard.”

Alexandra Renzo, as breezy Mandy, acknowledges that it’s easy to see her character as a pesky, sunshiney gnat buzzing around bigger issues. “Archetypically, she’s the child who asks the most devastating questions in the simplest of forms,” Kilner says of the character.

But Renzo asks the audience not to dismiss Mandy and, in doing so, not to dismiss lightheartedness. When asked what she brings from her own life to the stage, Renzo cites her father, a civil rights lawyer. “He forever sought justice in this very intense way,” she says. But then he was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer. “He once saw a healer,” she continues. “The healer said, ‘The pancreas is where you feel joy. You haven’t felt a lot of joy in your life, have you?’ … That moment changed me in a lot of ways.” She pauses. “So I seek joy, and trivial things, and I love simplicity and quiet moments and laughing. I think there’s something really beautiful in that. And Mandy wishes that for people.”

David Sinkus, whose character Richard is perhaps looking to leave the print industry, can relate. Sinkus and his wife, after having children and after living in New York on Sept. 11, 2001, decided to leave the city for New Mexico. “I had my focus changed toward my family, and to raise them to possibly change the world.” He sees in Richard that shift—from career to family, from personal greatness to greater good.

So, that’s all very heavy, yes. But the audience should not expect nights full of weeping and fist-banging. There is tons of humor in the show—gallows humor, of course, because that’s what journalists do best. Plus, “the incongruity of an innocent coming up against people who have seen such horror is funny, in many ways,” Kilner says.

To ask what we can do for those in places like Iraq or Syria feels like too big a question. Not everyone can be expected to jump into the fray, shutter clicking. “Like all great playwrights,” Kilner says of Margulies, “he challenges you to get involved, and to walk out with more questions than answers.”

Asking how we, as individuals, can change the world may be too much. But something small can be immediately done: Consider a conversation. Think. Watch. Listen to others. And, at the end of the day, if you feel you truly communicated with the person next to you, that is the first step to understanding the world at large.

Time Stands Still
7:30 pm Thursdays-Saturdays, May 18-June 3;
3 pm Sundays May 21- June 4. $15-$25.
Adobe Rose Theatre, 1
213-B Parkway Drive,


comments powered by Disqus


* indicates required
Choose your newsletter(s):

@SFReporter on Instagram