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Time Stand Still while I hide behind the camera

Last night Ruth and I attended a performance of “Time Stands Still,” a play by Donald Margulies, at the Langhorne Players, a seventy-three seat venue literally around the corner from us. What a treat. The play is very thought provoking, which is what led me to write this piece but, before getting to that, I must acknowledge the excellence of the cast, the direction, the production, frankly the whole thing. There was nothing amateurish about any of it even though everyone involved was a volunteer.

The only way I can evaluate acting is by suspension of disbelief. And that they did. Laura Scotti as the star photojournalist Sarah and Nigel Rogers as James, a journalist who is her partner in life and adventure were superb. At no time did I think they were anything but what they were portraying. And so were Tom Dinardo as Richard, their much-wiser-now editor and Sara Stepnowski as Mandy, his naive, unsophisticated and uncomplicated trophy wife. They all delivered their lines—and there were many of them—so smoothly and fluidly and credibly and with such good timing, while navigating the small stage, that much credit must be given to the director, Jean Brenner.

Ruth and I have attended performances at the Langhorne Players before, but after such a performance, we wondered why we don’t go more often. We will.

What led me to write this piece was the ending of the play, when Sarah brings out her camera [spoiler alert] and focuses on the departing James. One question raised in the play concerned the role of a journalist. “I’m there to take pictures, that’s my job,” Sara states at a key point when Mandy confronts her: why not try to save the poor kid dying rather than taking his picture? Why not save the baby elephant separated from his mother? Sarah believes the greater good comes from letting people know what is happening, while Mandy, who traversed the widest arc during the play, has matured into a person who understands what is important and is willing to put everything else aside.

It reminded of when my kids were doing gymnastics and I would film them. (I have boxes full of VCR tapes of their gymnastics exploits, tapes I keep promising myself I’ll translate into DVDs)

I got the big bulky video camera (this was around 1980 when one had to lug a recorder as well) to record them for posterity and to let them watch themselves and improve. What I discovered was that by getting behind the camera, I attained separation. By concentrating on keeping them in focus and in the frame I saved myself much anxiety and the worry that they would fall or fail at a trick.

Sigmund Freud defined happiness as the absence of pain. Those who take the biggest chances, he claimed, are likely to feel the most happiness when they succeed and the most pain when they don’t. By remaining behind the camera, I dampened the extremes, I got to watch their performances later, when I knew the results. I didn’t set out to do that, but it worked out that way.

In the play [spoiler alert] Sarah chose to return to the front lines, to feeling the adrenaline surge while remaining behind the lens, apart, feeling her subjects’ pain, but remotely. James chose a normal life, one with direct emotional involvement. Freud might have said (imagine Austrian accent) that Sarah wanted the highs while hiding from the lows while James was willing to roll the dice.

What Donald Margulies wanted to express, I can’t say, other than to pose questions, as good writers do. One of his points is clear though: life is horrible, and wonderful. Figure out how to deal with it.

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