Couples are on display this month in two of Washington's premier stages - what brings them together and what keeps them together. (Kind of funny that my ArtHouse group just saw the film version of Waiting for Godot Sunday - another couple trying to stay together.) The standout of these two is Time Stands Still by Pulitzer Prize winner Donald Margulies at Studio Theater, starring the excellent (and ubiquitous) Holly Twyford. Also thought-provoking, The Religion Thing at Theater J features top-notch local actors (Will Gartshore and Kimberly Gilbert) but is not as polished. It probably raises more questions, however, which is part of its problem. In Time Stands Still, a journalist couple returns from covering the war after she barely survived a road-side bombing. (As an usher, I was able to see Holly practicing her walk with crutches before the play.) It's the professional thrills that have defined their relationship, but now James (Greg McFadden) wants to give up the dangerous stuff and get officially married. (He didn't have any rights when Twyford's character was in the hospital.) But despite her injuries, she's not ready to give it up. In walks their middle-aged editor Dan Illian with his new girlfriend, the "hot" young Laura C. Harris and we see more of what makes a good couple tick. She's simpler and naive but is that a bad thing? Why can't Sarah go on without the live-and-die pyrotechnics? Why can't these two highly intelligent and passionate people who seem to be in love figure it out? It's a stirring performance that I will try to see again.
I took a group to see The Religion Thing and then we stayed for the discussion after. People enjoyed the play; local playwright Renee Calarco has an ear for dialogue that rings true. But where Margulies has focused his themes, Calarco's are all over the place. Her two couples have numerous issues going on - what brought them together, did they settle the kids question, can they play with others, is Gartshore's character straight, can you be gay and then decide to change, does sex depend on this, and, as the title indicates (and her strongest theme), what role does religion play in all this. It's just too challenging a task that she's set out for herself. She then complicates it by giving us a sugarcoated first scene comedy sketch rather than trusting the play. (An equally dizzy "dream" scene occurs in the second act as well.) I was fascinated by the Mo and Brian couple (played sympathetically and well by Liz Mamana and Chris Stezin) and the simple issue of do they belong together. She seems to want kids more than he does, but he later indicates how important Judaism is to him and perhaps her being Catholic has held him back. So communication certainly sits at the forefront here. It's all swirling and the gay issue probably gets the most focus; I would have preferred otherwise. But it is still worth seeing.
DC is again fortunate to have two such intelligent productions.