Timely play comments on Middle East

by Lenise Willis

Timely play comments on Middle East

By Lenise Willis

In light of the ongoing war against terrorism, and now President Obama’s possible attack on Syria, Paper Lantern Theatre Company couldn’t have picked a better play to begin its first season as Triad Stage’s resident theater company for the UpStage Cabaret.

Donald Margulies’ play Time Stands Still is a story about war, personal conflict, duty and love.

“The writing is so deft and believable,” said director John Gulley. “He doesn’t just understand dialogue, he understands human nature. Everything that comes out of the characters’ mouths is so natural.”

“[I]t is very much about the choices and compromises we all make,” Margulies said, “in love, in work, and, particular to this play, in war. Ethical struggles touch on all aspects of life.”

The play follows a longtime couple and journalistic team as they return to New York City after a long and harrowing stint in the war-torn Middle East. Yet learning to adapt from a life prone to adrenaline proves difficult for the couple, and domestic life and compromise prove to be a battle as well.

“To me, it’s about what our obligation is to the world as Americans and how that relates or competes with our own happiness,” Gulley said. “The play wonderfully examines that tension.”

Margulies’ play also demonstrates his skill of embedding thought-provoking questions and ideas within his writing, but without forcing it on the audience. “The audience gets to make sense for themselves of the tension between duty and personal happiness,” Gulley said. “They’ll leave the theater and think about that.”

Amy da Luz, a Paper Lantern founder and actress, plays Sarah, a photojournalist who was injured while at work in the Middle East. Her husband, James (Ben Baker), was a foreign correspondent by her side, but now the two have exchanged their dangerous but meaningful work for a quiet docile life back in the States.

“The play is incredibly timely and relevant, especially with Syria,” da Luz said, “I wasn’t very familiar with the issues; my knowledge of the Middle East was probably like that of most Americans. But as my character I had to know it inside and out. I did a lot of research. I also had to know how to play an adrenaline junkie — I am not [one].”

“The whole play takes place in a Brooklyn apartment setting,” Gulley said. “All four characters are in this apartment, but it’s a play about the world at large.”

Gulley said the scenic design is remarkable and uses the cabaret’s small and intimate space to its advantage. “The audience is going to fill [on top of the action] like flies on the wall,” he said. “It’s really thrilling for the audience, but there may be times when they look for the exit because they’ll feel like their watching something they shouldn’t be watching.”

Gulley also celebrates Paper Lantern’s choice to produce such a worldly play, as well as daring to ask Americans to think about some complex issues.

“Not enough American writers are dealing with politics and these issues,” Gulley said.

“At it’s core, it’s really a love story,” Baker said. “And [to get into character] I just have to believe that love is the strongest power in the world and just allow it to affect me.”

“And it’s funny, too,” da Luz added. “That’s Paper Lantern — we can get you laughing while crying too.”

Time Stands Still was nominated for a 2010 Tony Award for Best Play and Best Actress. It opened on Broadway in 2010 at the Manhattan Theatre Club.

Paper Lantern Theatre Company enters its sixth season as the new resident company of Triad Stage’s UpStage Cabaret. Paper Lantern has made it its mission to introduce the area to new and exiting playwrights and their works, and to produce Triad premieres of contemporary works by today’s award-winning playwrights.

“I have been astounded with the company ever since I met Amy four or five years ago and their mission to bring necessary and essential theatre to the Triad,” Baker said.

Wanna go?’ Time Stands Still runs in Triad Stage’s UpStage Cabaret, 232 S. Elm St., Greensboro, Sept. 27-Oct. 6. Tickets are $20, $18 for seniors and students. For tickets or more information call 336.272.0160 or visit