"This is something like my 80th show," says Jordan Merkur of Time Stands Still. While he has guided productions of every kind, including eight years as artistic director at The Red Barn Theatre (20 shows directed) and the multiple-Dora winning Assassins, he does play favourites. "I'm not really great at doing Shakespeare and Shaw and more classic works. I'm more comfortable with work dealing with the issues of the day. I'm strong at plays that mix comedy and drama together. I'm not really good at sex farces or avant-garde stuff. Very character based, relevant material is what I'm most suited to do."
Merkur's resumé contradicts the above statements, but also explains why he is so passionate about Time Stands Still. "After The Red Barn Theatre burned to the ground, I was really looking to return to Toronto with a play that Toronto audiences would want to see. When I caught the opportunity to direct Time Stands Still at the Fringe, I jumped at the chance." Time Stands Still was a massive Fringe hit and Merkur decided to form the TSS Collective to mount a full production.
"It's just a really beautiful, beautiful play," he says. "It deals with the issues that often emerge in relationships when people love each other but priorities shift. Sometimes the person we fall in love with is not exactly the same person five years later who wakes up beside us in the morning. It's about how to negotiate a relationship when the landscape changes."
The main storyline of Time Stands Still concerns two photo-journalists, one who is injured and disfigured by a roadside bomb and one who has PTSD. Understandably their relationship is under stress. "The author Donald Margulies calls it a love story but I find that a bit of a stretch," says Merkur who is also quick to explain that the comedy in the show comes mainly from the interweaving plot that chronicles an inter-generational relationship. "It's something that I've noticed happening more and more in the gay community and I think gay men will relate. Of course gay men can relate to anything, they're part of the world and they're interested in the same thing as straights. Time Stands Still is very dramatic but also very, very funny. I think life is like that, we shift from tragedy to comedy 15 times in a day. A lot of the comedy comes from very serious situations. Overall it is a very serious play."
Much of the seriousness concerns the state of journalism. "Right now journalists have become targets. Held for ransom. People want to silence their voices. Time Stands Still also deals with the myriad issues of how we relate to the news, how we learn about atrocities. When I read about the terrible things, when ISIS throws gay men off a rooftop . . . how many times can I see that? And am I actually going to do anything about it? How does the news affect us? And after a while, am I going to keep reading? What can we do with this information?"
Time Stands Still was a Tony-nominated hit on Broadway and, "swept all across the United States in places like Steppenwolf in Chicago, in Los Angeles, all the major regional theatres. But it didn't get the same run in Canada so we're introducing it to Toronto audiences." Merkur is very keen to show his work to his hometown, he happily resides in the heart of the Village. And David Wooten, who strove to keep the Village alive while working for the BIA, has created the set design for Time Stands Still. "David Wooten is totally under-rated," says Merkur. "He's a fabulously good designer. He's a very creative dedicated person. I have a lot of commitment to what I do but he is driven in terms of his art."
While Merkur notes that life at Church and Wellesley is evolving, he's still a booster. "I've lived in the Village since 1994 but of course I came down here much earlier," says Merkur. "I go to the Y, I'm part of the gay volleyball league, I love being here. We're very lucky to have a community like this. I know I don't have to live in this area but I choose to and I think that option is very important and welcoming for gay men. I'm very happy to be here. Nothing stands still. Which is a major ironic metaphor in the play. When she's behind the camera lens, time stands still. It frames the moment. Captures it. But life doesn't stand still, things always change."