Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Time Stands Still at Florida Rep

I learned a new word last week:  proscenium.   The proscenium is the area of the theater surrounding the stage opening, often an arch.  It separates the stage and actors from the audience in the lay-out of traditional theaters.  Proscenium theaters can be contrasted with theater in the round in which the audience surrounds the stage, and the "fourth wall" between the actors and the audience is eliminated.

My view of the set 
This is all very educational, but why am I prattling on about it?  Last week-end I saw an incredible performance of Donald Marguiles' Time Stands Still at Florida Rep's revamped theater in the round.  Just to give you a sense of the intimacy of this 80 person theater, here's a picture of the stage from my seat.  When the actors came to the sink to get a glass of water or pour out a bottle of wine, I literally could have given them a helping hand.  When they were on the other side of the set, I'd estimate them at no more than 20 feet away.  Obviously, this creates a very different--and personal-- theater experience than your typical Saturday afternoon matinee.

General Nguyen Ngoc Loan 
Executing a Viet Cong Prisoner
in Saigon by Eddie Adams
From the second I walked into the theater, I was engaged.  The setting of the play is the loft of Sarah Goodwin, a photojournalist back from Iraq after having been injured by a roadside bomb, and James Dodd, a war correspondent.  I felt like I had actually walked into their apartment, and I was immediately drawn to this photograph.   I was ready for the ride.

Time Stands Still is a complex and layered story played out by four characters:  Sarah, Mandy, James and Richard.  Sarah, as noted above, is a photojournalist who sees life through the lens of her camera.  (The play gets its title from her statement that, "When I look through the viewfinder, time stops.")  Mandy is a fresh-faced event planner whom Richard has fallen in love with while Sarah and James were off covering the war.  The contrast between the two women could not be more stark.  Sarah caustically notes that she "does" events as well, except that hers are famine and war and genocide.   Mandy initially comes off as a ditzy blond, but as the story develops, you realize that she is a woman of substance who is making a choice to see the joy in life.

James is a reporter who had a breakdown in Iraq after seeing some wartime atrocity that put him over the edge.  James and Sarah have been together for eight years, and their life has been built on adrenalin.   When their existence is suddenly limited to the walls of their loft, they are forced to face questions of what they want out of their lives and their relationship.

Richard is Sarah and James' editor at a magazine that bears some resemblance to Time.   He fights each month for a few pages of coverage for the war in Iraq or the global conflict du jour.   He is unapologetic about his relationship with the young Mandy, who provides a counterbalance to the intensity of his work.  In fact, he is content.

Time Stands Still raises many thought provoking issues that range from the ethics of photojournalism to how relationships stand the test of time and change.  The play would be terrific in any venue (and I'm certainly sorry that I missed it on Broadway with Laura Linney in the role of Sarah.)  Seeing this play in such an intimate space, however, elevated it to a whole different level of production.

Greg Longenhagen and Tyler Layton
(still wearing her scars from the war)
I had happened upon a performance with a "talk back" after the show with the actors and Robert Cacioppo, Producing Artistic Director of Florida Rep.   Each said that they felt that the honesty of the play and its relationship-driven nature made it a perfect vehicle for the theater in the round setting.  The actors commented as well on the differences between working in an intimate setting such as the ArtStage Studio Theater and a more traditional playhouse. (This is when the word "proscenium" kept coming up, which I conscientiously wrote down to look up later.)  Greg Longenhagen, who portrayed James, acknowledged that there is no room for error in focus given the immediacy of the performance space. The actors attributed their skill in part to a good rehearsal period--a full three weeks--and in part to the chemistry among the four.

Mandy Guy, Robert Cacioppo, and
William McNulty 
When talking about what makes acting so special in this type of venue, Tyler Layton noted that she could use a breath as a line when portraying Sarah's emotions.  William McNulty, who played Richard (and Mark Rothko in last season's Red), commented that theater in the round gives the audience a more "cinematic" experience..  And Claire Guy, performing the role of Mandy, shared with the audience a bit about working with director Chris Clavelli to block the show so that the audience can see at least one actor's face at all times.

Time Stand Still is running at Florida Repertory Theater through February 15th.   If you are anywhere near Fort Myers and love the theater, this is a must-see production.   It is truly a stunning performance and a theater experience that you will remember for years to come.

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