A SCENE from the play Time Stands Still, which uncovers the lives of journalists covering conflict zones.—White Star
A SCENE from the play Time Stands Still, which uncovers the lives of journalists covering conflict zones.—White Star

KARACHI: “We’re supposed to capture the truth, not stage it,” says Sarah Goodwin midway into the play, Time Stands Still. A photojournalist who returns home after being in a gruesome accident involving a roadside bombing while covering the Iraq war, Sarah bears physical and psychological scars. But she is not alone. Her partner James, a reporter, is also plagued by demons of his own.

This was the backdrop of the third offering at the Young Director’s Theatre Festival organised by the National Academy of Performing Arts (Napa) on Sunday and was the first English play of the festival.

Time Stands Still is an adaptation of Donald Margulies’s play, who also won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2000 for his play Dinner With Friends.

Set in an apartment the two war reporters share in Brooklyn, it delves into the impact war leaves on journalists, and questions whether the empathy they seemingly lack while on job is an occupational hazard, or a defence mechanism.

Director I.R. Omer, who has acted in a number of Napa plays and worked extensively with KopyKats Productions, has incorporated fluidity among all his characters. There are moments when they betray how completely unstable they are and seem to be hanging on by a thread.

The challenge of adapting a play with such a larger than life theme can be a challenge, yet for a large part of the production the characters are in control of the script. However, dialogue delivery suffers, especially when a scene becomes heated and many a times the actors muddle up their lines. This is unfortunate, especially since Time Stands Still has power-packed one-liners peppered throughout the play.

Sonia Ashraf convincingly pulls off the role of Sara, as she accepts her facial scars as a product of the “job”, still eagerly waiting to return despite the injury. Ashraf is witty and her quip on point. However, her pitch has a habit of becoming loud, especially while conversing with James, and that can be unpleasant at times. However, Ashraf is by far the superior performer from among the cast.

The greatest strength of the production would certainly be its comic relief that cuts through scenes where the atrocities of war are being discussed.

When Richard (I.R. Omer), Sarah’s photo editor, visits the couple in tow with his latest girlfriend, Mandy, an event manager much younger to the three friends, the audience is introduced to a newer side to Sarah. Her genuine concern for Richard and her teasing him for his choice in women allows a softer, more approachable side to the scarred Sarah to surface.

“There’s young, and there’s embryonic,” she explains to Richard about the age gap.

Malika Zafar’s performance as the airhead Mandy, whose heart is in the right place, is genuine and likeable. She eventually turns out to be a comic masterpiece, and though living a simplistic life as compared to her companions, her moral compass is ironically more in play than the others.

The theme of time standing still creeps up repeatedly in the play. When Mandy, in her distinctly beguiling way, asks Sarah how she manages to concentrate and capture images with so much going around her, Sarah responds, “When I look through that rectangle, time stops.”

Time Stands Still will be staged at Napa on Nov 23 (today).

Published in Dawn, November 23rd, 2015

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