South Stream Productions
@ Sonorous Road Theatre
209 Oberlin Road, Raleigh
Through Jan. 17

It’s the lesson monologist Spalding Gray learned too late, if he ever learned it at all: Documenting life is an excellent way to keep it, and the people in it, at a certain distance. In some cases, chronicling people’s lives is enough to indefinitely forestall having to commit to one for yourself.

In Time Stands Still, playwright Donald Margulies zeros in on another population subject to this malady: journalists. At the outset, war photographer Sarah (Olivia Griego) and correspondent James (Brook North) have just crash-landed back in their Brooklyn apartment after getting roughed up in Iraq. Days before an I.E.D. put Sarah in a coma for two weeks, another bomb shell-shocked James out of the field. Now he hovers over her as she slowly navigates with crutches, which aggravates the independent Sarah no end.

But when her longtime editor and friend, Richard (John Honeycutt), shows up with a younger and somewhat less sophisticated girlfriend, Mandy (Katie Barrett)and marriage prospects are subsequently raised for both couplesthese jaded newshounds’ limited capacity for building and sustaining relationships slowly comes into focus.

It’s certainly comical when Sarah and James snark on Mandy once she’s out of the room, despite Richard’s defenses of her. “I think it’s sweet,” Sarah coyly snipes. “You always wanted a little girl.” But it becomes far less amusing as we gradually learn that, for at least one of them, significant others inevitably fall in the category of fixers, those crucial but still somehow lesser ombudsmen who guide, protect and make battlefield journalism possible. We start to wonder: Who’s the fixer in each of these relationships? What fate will these characters ultimately face when the all-important story is over?

As James savages a stage show about refugees for turning people he has known into “anthropologic curiosities, like dioramas in a museum,” Margulies asks us, if only momentarily, to critically compare theatrical representations of war against reportage and combat-zone photography.

Griego anchors this production as the uncompromising Sarah, and North delivers a personal best as a fretful James. Honeycutt makes a solid Richard, and Barrett combines sparkle and no-nonsense certainty as Mandy. Todd Houseknecht’s set is too rudimentary to evoke a Brooklyn loft, but director Andy Hayworth’s strongest showing to date conveys intensity when these journalists are challenged to step out from behind the camera or keyboard and do something with their own lives beyond observing and reporting.

This article appeared in print with the headline “Snark and salvation”