Moving time along in ‘Time Stands Still’ (Bristol Riverside Theatre)

Eleanor Handley appears as the wounded photographer in Bristol Riverside Theatre's production of

Eleanor Handley appears as the wounded photographer in Bristol Riverside Theatre's production of "Time Stands Still." (Photo courtesy of Mark Garvin)

In Donald Margulies’ drama “Time Stands Still,” two traumatized journalists – a couple who work together in war zones – try to reconcile themselves to a life back home in the Brooklyn loft they share. For them, the issue isn’t whether you can ever come home again. It’s whether you can stay there.

The Bristol Riverside Theatre production, which opened Thursday night in staging by the company’s founding director, Susan B. Atkinson, is solid and realistic – yet slow at times in a way that draws unwanted attention to its attempt at feeling genuine. As it begins on Jason Simms’ brick-walled set with oversized windows that suggest this loft is a converted factory, James (Michael Satow) is struggling to get his partner Sarah (Eleanor Handley) up the stairs and into the living room. Her face is scarred. She walks with a crutch, her left arm’s in a sling, and she wears a hefty surgical boot. She’s full of shrapnel from a roadside bomb.

Both James, a writer, and Sarah, a photographer, have been traumatized – he’s been home getting his head together after an overseas incident, to use a sanitized word applied to deadly chaos. And the problem between them quickly surfaces: She’s more at home on a battlefield than in Brooklyn, documenting the horrors that are scenes in wars. “Where are my cameras?” is among the first lines she speaks. “So what happens tomorrow?” is the next. James is different: He’s able to lounge on a couch, substituting a constant round of horror films for the real thing.

The impressive acting in Bristol’s production bolsters this low-key drama, which had a year’s run on Broadway in 2010 and has been making the rounds in regional theaters ever since. Satow and Handley (married in real life) seem natural as the couple, who’ve worked together in magazine journalism for eight years and in the most dangerous parts of the world, but never married.

Their employer, a photo editor played by Danny Vaccaro, walks a tightrope as both friend and supervisor and his new young and naïve girlfriend, portrayed by Laura Giknis, is the play’s sounding board for a question the audience might ask: How can journalists record atrocity, but not intervene to ease it when it’s happening in front of them?

This, to me, is the part of “Time Stands Still” that resonates. “If it weren’t for people like me,” insists the photographer, “who would know? Who would care?” For her, there’s no question … at least in the first act.

“Time Stands Still” captures the general sense of journalists – or the journalists I know and have worked with – that documenting the world’s stories is a way to eventually change it for the better, or at least to appropriate its mysteries. The play, and the Bristol production, effectively considers the fallout from wearing a reporter’s invisible shield.

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“Time Stands Still” runs through Feb. 11 at Bristol Riverside Theatre, 120 Radcliffe St., Bristol, Pa. 19007; 215-785-0100; brtstage.org.

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