'Time Stands Still' explores relationships, journalistic ethics

Piet Knetsch has been directing at Theatre Lawrence for years, and he likes taking on challenging material. “Time Stands Still,” the Tony-nominated play about conflict journalism that opens Saturday, is exactly the kind of drama he enjoys.

On the surface, it’s a play about what is ethical when it comes to journalism. But...

“The story is really about their relationship,” Knetsch says of Sarah and James, the main characters.

She is a photojournalist. He is a reporter. Together, they’ve been wherever war and genocide have occurred. Sarah is injured on assignment, and she spends a year recovering. The action of the story follows the relationship of the two during this time.

“They find themselves asking each other all sorts of questions about the nature of their work and their relationship,” Knetsch says. “Should they go back? Should they get married after having been together for eight years? Should they have children? Both of them are in their early 40s.” It’s through this exploration of the couple’s relationship that the larger themes of the play come out.

“Is it appropriate to just observe and document horror?” Knetsch says. “What is the role of the photographer?"

After the injury, James wants out. He’s seen enough. Sarah isn’t so sure.

“He accuses her of being addicted to her work,” Knetsch says. “At its heart this is a love story. It’s the story of their love and what changes after she is injured.”

“Time Stands Still” features two other characters. Richard is the couple’s editor and gets their material published. He’s in his 50s, and he becomes involved with a much younger woman, Mandy.

“She comes across initially as an airhead,” Knetsch says. “Sarah and James scoff at the relationship at first, but they come to discover there is much more there.

“The author uses her to raise the moral/ethical questions he wants to discuss. She’s a lot more insightful than they initially give her credit for.”

And Richard and Mandy’s relationship serves as a contrast to the conflicted one of Sarah and James.

“Richard and Mandy have very different interests, and they’re obviously very different in age,” Knetsch notes, “but they have a much stronger, much happier relationship than these two people who are closer in age and are interested in the same things. It’s a wonderful, wonderful bit of writing.”

When Knetsch started considering “Time Stands Still,” he wasn’t just interested in directing it.

“As soon as I read the play, I was drawn to the idea of designing the set,” he says. “I hadn’t done any set design in about 15 years, and I’ve really enjoyed picking up that process again after a break.”

He’s hung pieces from the ceiling to suggest a loft apartment in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y.

“The author describes the apartment as one room where everything happens,” he says, “and Williamsburg is a warehouse district, so I interpreted the set as a warehouse type of apartment.”

The overhead pieces cast shadows onstage, and that’s part of the design.

“When you are dealing with a drama, I sort of like the idea of passing through the shadows,” he says. “I learned a lot about how to play with those shadows.”

“Time Stands Still” runs Feb. 23, 24, 28, and March 1, 2, and 3 at Theatre Lawrence. Curtain is at 7:30 p.m., except on Sundays when it is 2:30 p.m. Tickets are available by calling the box office at 843-7469 or online at www.theatrelawrence.com. (Note: "Time Stands Still" was originally supposed to open Friday, Feb. 22, but was canceled because of poor weather and driving conditions. Anyone with questions is asked to call 218-8145.)

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