Chaos to comfort

Bristol Riverside Theatre’s season continues with the Pulitzer Prize-winning play ‘Time Stands Still’

By Samantha Bambino

The Times

On stage: Eleanor Handley, who previously appeared in Bristol Riverside Theatre’s Witness for the Prosecution and Rumors, plays Sarah. Handley owns the role, quickly evolving Sarah from a buzzkill to a standout character with a sarcastic, dry humor that left audiences roaring in laughter. SOURCE: Bristol Riverside Theatre

There’s something to be said about a play where the character you’re rooting for changes multiple times in the span of two hours. This is certainly the case in Bristol Riverside Theatre’s third production of its 2017–18 season, Time Stands Still, a unique look at ordinary life through the lens of war. The show opened to the public on Jan. 25 and runs through Feb. 11.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning classic written by Donald Margulies centers around Sarah and James and the modern loft they share. The two are anything but your average couple — both are war correspondents, with her a photographer and him a writer. Every day, they put their lives on the line for the sake of documenting death and destruction overseas. They want to make a difference and educate the rest of the world, but at what cost?

While abroad, a car bomb explodes in Sarah’s vicinity, severely injuring her. Time Stands Still begins with her returning home, massive boot up to her knee, arm in a sling and scars across her face. Within minutes, the dynamic between her and James and their nine-year, unwedded relationship is evident.

James, played by Michael Satow, is your doting, happy-go-lucky boyfriend. Satow is instantly lovable in the role as he races around the apartment, making sure everything is perfect for Sarah. He just wants to help, but she wants no parts of it.

As his beloved girlfriend comes limping through the door, it’s clear she can hardly stand, let alone walk on her own with her new crutches. But as the saying goes, she’s a strong, powerful woman and wants to do everything on her own.

Sarah is played by Eleanor Handley, who previously appeared in BRT’s productions of Witness for the Prosecution, Rumors and Lost in Yonkers. If there’s one word to describe Handley’s character in the first act, it’s “grumpy.” Who can really blame her after surviving a near-death experience? Still, you can’t help but wonder if James could’ve done better when choosing a partner.

But Handley owns the role, quickly evolving Sarah from a buzzkill to a standout character with a sarcastic, dry humor that left audiences roaring in laughter. Her wit is evident when the couple’s longtime friend Richard, played by fellow BRT veteran Danny Vaccaro (A Closer Walk with Patsy Cline, Tuesdays with Morrie, Man of La Mancha, Little Shop of Horrors) stops by to welcome her home.

Dynamic duo: Laura Giknis plays Mandy and Danny Vaccaro plays Richard in Bristol Riverside Theatre’s Time Stands Still. SOURCE: Bristol Riverside Theatre

It’s clear that Richard is a bit older than the two, sporting gray hair and business casual attire. So it comes as a bit of a shock when he brings with him his new girlfriend, who looks as though she could be his daughter. Mandy, played by Laura Giknis, who starred in BRT’s Working: a Musical, An Enemy of the People and Little Shop of Horrors, instantly gives off the stereotypical “dumb blonde” vibe. She’s an event planner, a job Sarah indiscreetly turns her nose up to.

“I’m into events, too,” she tells Mandy. “War, famine, genocide…”

With Handley’s deadpan delivery and perfect timing, that single line received the biggest audience reaction the entire night.

Another pleasant surprise when it came to character development was Mandy. While Giknis certainly shined as the peppy, giggly 20-something (and rightly so since she just finished performing on a Disney Cruise Line as Anna from Frozen), she showed the audience there’s more to Mandy than what appears.

A standout scene for Giknis is when Mandy tells Sarah she disagrees with her work. Many of her photographs capture dying children and grieving mothers, and Mandy can’t wrap her head around how Sarah can snap picture after picture but not intervene to help.

Sarah attempts to explain that it’s for educational purposes, to show the rest of the world what’s going on, but Mandy isn’t having it and leaves the apartment practically in tears. She may be naive in some aspects, but has a heart of gold. In that moment, it’s evident Richard isn’t with her simply because of a mid-life crisis.

As Time Stands Still pushes on, James and Sarah attempt to hold fast to a rapidly dissolving relationship. Satow’s pain can be felt as he learns she wasn’t entirely faithful to him while overseas, a told-you-so moment for those early anti-Sarah audience members.

In addition to this massive roadblock, both desire completely opposite lives. She wants to get back to the thrill of war while he wants to settle down, have children and watch horror documentaries on Netflix. In the end, both discover how to move forward and achieve these respective lives.

Performances of Time Stands Still run Wednesday through Sunday until Feb. 11. Tickets start at $33 with discounts for students, groups and military personnel. Tickets are available by visiting brtstage.org or calling the box office at 215–785–0100. Bristol Riverside Theatre is located at 120 Radcliffe St. in Bristol. ••

Samantha Bambino can be reached at sbambino@newspapermediagroup.com