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Time Stands Still and the power of simplicity

By Roog Kubur, December 12 2021—

Time Stands Still was playing at the Flanagan Theatre at the Grand until Nov. 28. The play was brought to life with an incredible roster of iconic Canadian figures — written by Terry Ivins, directed by Michelle Thrush and live music by Corb Lund.

The play centres around Carl Big Horse and Mark Panther Bone, played by Dustin Frank and Garrett Smith, on the first  anniversary of their incarceration. The two characters are immediately established with the opening moments of the show, with Lund’s voice echoing through the stage while a nervous Carl and level-headed Mark take their mugshots.

The establishing moments of the play resonated with the audience. The stage was always lit with a cool, metallic blue, creating an uninviting atmosphere from the get-go. It eventually warmed through a montage of Carl and Mark becoming more comfortable with their surroundings throughout the year, a brilliant visual metaphor. 

The simplicity of the set was taken advantage of during the moments where they dreamed of other and oftentimes better things. One of the most dazzling moments of the show was when Carl was describing his dream of riding through a field on a horse, when the stage lit up with footage of a warm sunset on a wheat field. Carl was standing proudly on his bed, eyes closed, fully enraptured by the scene. 

The two grapple with and reflect on their lives in and out of prison. These conversations give insight into their lives and add depth to the characters, letting the audience in on their most triumphant and most embarrassing moments without compromising emotional depth and resonance. They make repeated mention of the faceless Jimmy, the third musketeer in their dynamic and his role in their lives, the relationship between Mark and Carl’s sister and their makeshift family to cope with their hardships. 

Despite the two being opposites, the sense of brotherhood between Mark and Carl is undeniable, with each providing support and care when they each need it most. These conversations were heartfelt, even when it was riddled with crude jokes and questionable language. One of the most endearing parts of the play were the technical errors and adlibs by the two actors. 

There were points in the play where lines were forgotten, repeated, or even props refusing to cooperate, but none of it took away from the experience of the show. In fact, they added to the realism of these two characters. When Mark stumbled on a tongue-twister or Carl struggled to take off his outer layer, the two were still charming and loveable. The two actors handled these moments brilliantly, adding something different to look out for with each performance. 

Corb Lund’s live music added another dimension to the play. He sat perched atop a stool stage left, emerging from the dark to sing a blend of his well-known tracks and songs specially created for the play. Each song added warmth to the story, breaking apart the cool metallic blue of the lighting. However, the strongest attraction this play has to offer is its comedy. The jokes were well written and never came across as forced or contrived, only serving as a testament to Ivins’ talent as a writer. 

While watching the play, there was one moment that stuck out as an audience member. After Carl confesses he overheard someone in the prison had called him a racial slur, the two have a back and forth with equally-offensive language to figure out who it might have been. This conversation is riddled with irony and cognitive dissonance from Carl and Mark, only adding to the dark humour of the play. 

However, as an audience member, it was jarring to say the least. It felt like it came out of left field, to have the two suddenly blurt out racial slurs and stereotypes and pass it off as irony. I don’t think this deterred from the experience of the play, though. It wasn’t out of character for the two of them to say those things, nor was it used as a premise to ridicule other races.

It was a polarizing moment to say the least, with it being a hot topic while audience members were having drinks in the lounge afterwards. However, this scene shouldn’t deter others from watching the play. While it certainly suspended my immersion, I could appreciate the joke being their disconnect, not the language itself.

The most fitting word for this play is touching. The characters were endearing despite their flaws, the staging never distracted from the essence of the story and the extra touch of live music created an atmosphere unlike any other. It had a lively quality without being over the top, feeling grounded in reality despite the, potentially, unrelatable premise.

The efforts of the entire cast and crew were fully realized through the simplicity of the story. At the end of the day, it was two guys having conversations about their lives — a painfully relatable concept.

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