It's not enough to be good at your craft. You have to be good at your relationship, too. That's more than photojournalist Sarah can handle in Donald Margulies' Time Stands Still. But who can blame her? Her face and body are collaterally damaged on assignment overseas, and when her journalist boyfriend James brings her home, walking cane, bandages and all, he's hovering over her like one of those choppers back in the war zone.
But is Sarah too obsessed with her work for a meaningful relationship (or marriage, which James decides he wants)? Or is James, who's replaced his own emotional scars from covering the world's ugliness with cooking and watching old movies on Netflix, unreasonably trying to change Sarah? These are the uneasy and paramount questions of Marguiles' 2009 play, which is getting a snappy and intelligently realized production at North Coast Rep under the direction of David Ellenstein.
The cast of four is led by New Yorker Mhari Sandoval as Sarah, a role played on Broadway by Laura Linney. Sandoval projects all the grit and passion of a hardened photojournalist, one for whom time stands still, as the title goes, when her critical image is in focus. As James, Francis Gercke exudes the appropriate concern and exasperation, though the character seems no match for Sarah in intensity. John Nutten and Stacey Hardke lighten the domestic drama (when not comically heightening it) as editor Richard and events planner / eventual super-mom Mandy, whose May-December romance is as dewy-eyed as Sarah and James' is desperate.
The foibles of love and commitment aside, Time Stands Still stands tallest when its inhabitants compel us to confront the questions of a journalist's role (whether to document the dark world or try to change it) and whether it's better to accept grim reality and brood about it or to take Mandy's attitude that lemonade can be made out of lemons. Those are my words, not hers, but you get the idea. Margulies' smart script proffers no pat answers. Nor does the North Coast Rep staging force any upon us. You can easily foresee the play's resolution, but getting to it is a thought-provoking exercise.
Time Stands Still runs through March 17 at North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach. $37-$54. northcoastrep.org
A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder: In this musical comedy set in Edwardian England, a man in need of treasure to win the love of a woman learns he's a distant heir to a fortune and begins murdering his way to the top of the family food chain. Opens March 8 on The Old Globe Theatre's Donald and Darlene Shiley Stage in Balboa Park. oldglobe.org
Willy Wonka: A boy wins a contest, takes his gramps on a tour of a spectacular chocolate factory and realizes what's really important. Presented by Pickwick Players, it runs March 8 through 16 at C3 Performing Arts Center in Grantville. pickwickplayers.net
Punk Rock : This is the West Coast premiere of a drama about seven affluent British prep-school teens getting ready for final exams. It doesn't end well. Through March 9 at BLKBOX Theatre in Hillcrest.
People Say You Can't Live Without Love I Think Oxygen is More Important : A musical revue about love. Through March 10 at the Broadway Theatre in Vista. broadwayvista.com
Sailor's Song : In John Patrick Shanley's play, a seaman who's trying to find his way in life meets to beguiling sisters and tries to find his way with them. Through March 10 at Patio Playhouse in Escondido. patioplayhouse.com
South Pacific : Love blossoms for two couples amid racial prejudice and World War II in this classic musical. Runs through March 17 at Welk Resorts Theatre in Escondido. welktheatres.com
Time Stands Still : A couple—she a war photojournalist, he a war reporter—return from Iraq after she's injured and face a less-exhilarating future together. Through March 17 at North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach. northcoastrep.org
The Mountaintop : In a fictional version of events, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. spends his last night among the living in Room 306 of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tenn. Presented by San Diego Repertory Theatre, it runs through March 31 at the Lyceum Theatre at Horton Plaza, Downtown. sdrep.org
Crime Pays : A radio game show with dastardly overtones, served up with dinner, is presented by Mystery Cafe at Imperial House restaurant in Bankers Hill. mysterycafe.net