Love and Danger

Collaborative Arts's "Time Stands Still" takes a close look at both
Courtesy, Collaborative Arts
Elise Wilkinson as "Sarah"

Collaborative Arts brings Charlotte the regional premiere of Time Stands Still, a Tony-nominated new play by Pulitzer Prize winner Donald Margulies. The mood veers between comic and tragic as we follow Sarah, a photojournalist just back from Iraq, and James, a foreign correspondent, struggling to sustain their relationship and find a sense of normalcy. Eric Tucker plays James, and Collaborative Arts co-founder Elise Wilkinson portrays Sarah. Here's how they see their roles and the play.

Charlotte Magazine: What attracted you to this play and to the role you're playing?

Eric Tucker: I liked all of the stuff hiding just beneath the surface in this play. I love the way things sneak up on you in the text. I was very drawn to James. He's truly a good person, in love with Sarah and wanting to get better. He doesn't wallow in what happened to him; he's trying to get better and change his life and he has such hope for the two of them. I identified with his guilt and his anger, his way of letting things out when he can't hold it in any longer.

Elise Wilkinson: I love how complex the character of Sarah is. She’s not your typical woman. In fact, she’s somewhat unlikable in many scenes. She’s strong, very opinionated, and occasionally crabby. However, she also has a huge heart, is incredibly passionate about her work and the people she loves, and is unwavering in her values. Those characteristics create tremendous internal conflict for her, but they also make her very much a real person. I love her for that.

CM: What do you think audiences will love about this play?

EW: This is such a beautiful and well-written play. It’s got a perfect balance of intense drama and laugh-out loud comedy while also addressing some very relevant contemporary issues. The play doesn’t lead the audience to form an opinion. Rather, it asks a lot of thought-provoking questions that stick with you long after you leave the theater.

ET: The relationships. I think they'll relate to them immensely. I think they'll relate to the characters as well, and also appreciate the questions the play raises about the morality of journalism and theater itself.

CM: Did you see the original on Broadway starring Laura Linney? If so, in what ways will your production be similar? In what ways will it be different?

EW: My first experience with this play was seeing the Broadway version, and I fell in love with the story and the characters. Our production will be staged much more intimately. No one is more than three rows away from the action. I hope it will feel like being a fly on the wall of Sarah and James’ apartment.

CM: It sounds like both your characters are attracted to danger; true? Is that part of what brings you together? Ultimately, is it part of the struggle that both partners are thrill-seekers?

ET: James started his career right out of college by placing himself where the action was, and I think at first the thrill of the job carried him along. As he's gotten older and been affected by it and seen Sarah affected by it, he's seeing a different future for them. I think this is a case of two people who have grown apart and no longer want the same things. I do think at some point James' attraction to danger fell away and became a real need to write about what was going on in the particular war zones he was covering.

EW: Sarah is definitely attracted to the adrenaline rush she gets from working in dangerous situations. However, she really feels that the work she does matters. If people like her aren’t there to take pictures, the rest of the world wouldn’t be able to see what’s going on in these conflict zones. It’s a calling for her – she needs her work. Her struggle comes from trying to balance her relationship with her career.

CM: There's an introduction of another couple into the action — a friend of the couple and his much-younger girlfriend. What role do they play in forcing our main characters to re-examine their relationship and maybe their jobs?

ET: Richard and Mandy really do force James and Sarah to re-examine their lives. Richard has placed a premium on his relationship, making a family, and being happy. I think this forces James to take a hard look at what he wants in life. He begins thinking of marriage and children and approaching the idea of not going back to the Middle East. Mandy represents the kind of average person who doesn't necessarily listen to the news or pick up the news magazines. She doesn't understand how a person could ignore the natural instinct to help someone in danger or who is hurt in order to take their picture. She's not someone who James and Sarah would normally associate with and her honest, emotional responses to things make them hear things in ways they haven't before.

CM: What does the play have to say about the difficulty of balancing a relationship with a dangerous job? Is it possible to do it?

ET: It seems to say that the relationship can work as long as the couple stays together. Things seems to break apart when James makes the decision to go home during his nervous breakdown. I think the relationship has to be extremely strong to withstand the extraordinary things that happen to people in a war zone.

EW: I think it’s possible to balance both, but it's extremely difficult. The key is that both partners have to want the same thing. Sarah and James are trying to figure out what they want as individuals and as a couple.

CM: Elise, Does your character come to view the war and the function of journalism differently after being injured? (Or, does it give too much away to answer that question?)

EW: Sarah’s injuries don’t change her view on the importance of her job, nor do they dampen her desire to return to a war zone. It’s her recovery and attempt to live a “normal” life that force her to re-examine her commitment to her job.

CM: Few of us can relate to having jobs in war zones, but we can all relate to the guilt your character feels. (In this case, you got out of a war zone safely, while your partner stayed and was injured.) Talk a little about that universal theme of guilt.

 ET: I think we all suffer this. It's only natural that it's difficult to forgive ourselves for things we think we could have done differently.  I think James did what he had to do. He witnessed something truly horrible, something most people never see, and needed to escape. Naturally he feels guilty for leaving, and that is magnified when Sarah gets hurt. I think the theme of guilt in a play resonates deeply with an audience because it is so universal and strangely enough, I think an audience enjoys seeing this because it validates their own feelings of guilt. I think it's the same reason I'm attracted to living inside of James' guilt, it soothes my own and helps me come to terms with it knowing that I'm not unique.  And of course, [it] also allows me to play the role more truthfully because I understand him. 

The play runs Nov 17-Dec 3. Find out more.

Categories: Arts + Culture, Revue