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Backstage: Scars of war in ‘Time Stands Still’; ‘Religion Thing’; ‘Hedda Gabler’

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The first thing you notice when you look at the poster for Studio Theatre’s “Time Stands Still” is the right side of Holly Twyford’s face.

Twyford has been a staple in Washington theater for almost 20 years. In “Time Stands Still,” she plays Sarah, an injured photojournalist just back home from Iraq. Half of her body bears the marks of a shrapnel explosion, deep red slices across one side of her forehead, along the line of her jaw, down to the top of her chest.

She’s scarred. There’s something visceral about the noun-as-verb, how something that sits on the surface of your skin can become this active descriptor of who you are, of what happened to you, of what you’ll be carrying around forever.

“I think I read this script right around when Tim Hetherington was killed,” said Twyford, referring to the photographer-filmmaker who was fatally wounded in Libya last spring. “And I was immediately struck by how timely this was.”

When we spoke, Twyford had worn the scars only twice. “I can barely feel them if I don’t touch them,” she said. “I’m looking forward to having them on.”

Skip Smith, the makeup artist for “Time Stands Still,” described the process of designing the scars. “I asked the director [Susan Fenichell], ‘How intense do you want this?’ Because this is not a horror makeup. . . . It’s more of a disfigurement.”

“I developed a stencil system,” Smith explained. “Using soft vinyl material, I cut the shapes of the shrapnel scars and the stencil matches up underneath her eye, up to her ear, and another fits on her jaw up to her neck. And there’s another that’s a general stencil to place all over.” The scars take 30 to 40 minutes to apply. “We’re also using a plasticized scar material for some of the scars to give a raised look that’s more realistic.”

The end result, though not “like a ‘Phantom of the Opera’ reveal” as Smith said, is still a striking one. It’s hard to look away.

But Twyford says Sarah’s struggles don’t revolve around appearance. “She’s not ashamed. . . . There’s a line in the play, someone says to her, ‘There’s surgery to remove the scars if they bother you.’ And Sarah says, ‘They don’t.’ I think she’s being honest there.”

Wednesday to Feb. 12, 1501 14th St. NW, www.studiotheatre.org, 202-332-3300.

Unfaithful

“The Religion Thing” is the inaugural play in Theater J’s “Locally Grown” festival, featuring work by D.C. area playwrights. The show, which opens Wednesday, focuses on two couples: one an interfaith husband and wife and the other their longtime friend, a recent born-again Christian, and her new honey, whom she met at a church mixer. The evangelicals are devout in their devotion to both God and each other.

Chris Stezin, plays “a non-observant Jewish guy married to a lapsed Catholic,” half of a couple who, as they age, “begin to miss the rituals of their childhoods and, I think, the substance that observing those rituals lends. . . . They try to navigate this minefield.”

Renee Calarco, the playwright, described herself as “Jewish and somewhat observant. . . . My mother is Jewish. My father was Catholic and he converted before marrying my mother. So half of my extended family is Catholic.

“Oddly enough it’s been a defining thing in my life. . . . How do you relate as a Jew in a Christian world?”

Calarco is an award-winning playwright (her “Short Order Stories” earned the 2007 Charles MacArthur Award for outstanding new play) who initially wrote “The Religion Thing” as a 10-minute play in 2004.

Religion, she said, is one of those issues that even the irreligious confront. “There are times when I think we all struggle with faith and the role of faith in our lives.”

“This play is about the things we put aside when we’re in relationships,” said Joseph Thornhill, who plays multiple roles in the show. “You want to have a life with somebody, so . . . you put off making decisions on things that don’t seem relevant at the time. In this case, it’s religion. But it could be about anything.”

Theater J suggests the show is suitable for viewers 17 or older because of sexual content and language. “I have a few favorite lines,” Stezin said, “most of which are unprintable.”

Wednesday to Jan. 29, 1529 16th St. NW, www.dcjcc.org/center-for-arts/theater-j, 800-494-8497.

Just like a woman

Hedda Gabler, said Robert McNamara, artistic director of ­SCENA Theatre, “is like a female Hamlet.”

This is not just because ­SCENA’s production of “Hedda Gabler,” opening Jan. 12, sets the story in 1938 Norway. Scandinavian similarities aside, Hedda Gabler is “an individual in a society held down.”

“She can be a cold [and] evil woman,” McNamara said. “To others, she’s someone who is trapped in a dead society and is trying to make a breakthrough, to find a life of her own. [The play is] looking at someone in a two-day period of time and all the chances and opportunities to grow are taken away from her. . . . All is not well in the state of Norway.”

McNamara also cites Gabler’s world’s eerie resemblance to D.C. “She’s in there talking about ‘If I could just get out of here, but I don’t have the courage.’ She’s afraid of scandal. And that’s what Washington thrives on today. She’s way ahead of her time.”

“She’s trapped in a very bourgeoisie environment that is not suited for her big personality,” said Kerry Waters, who plays the title role. Waters is a D.C. theater veteran who has directed as well as performed in Washington, and her husband, Eric Lucas, is also in the “Hedda Gabler” cast.

Gabler “is like a child in some respects,” Waters said. “As smart as she is, she’s unsocialized. She’s isolated. So she’s like a trapped animal that’s just ready to leap out of the cage and do something very dangerous, and she does.

“I’m trying to find sympathy for her in my interpretation. I’m focusing on, underneath it, her vulnerability and self-doubt. Her frustration with the people around her because she has a very keen intelligence. She’s sort of a thwarted artistic genius. . . . She’s looking for inspiration and she can’t find it. And she’s pregnant, and she doesn’t want to be.

“It’s a great leading lady role in the tradition of great theater. And I get to shoot a gun!” she added. “I get to shoot a pistol on stage. That’s fun, too.”

Jan. 12-29, H Street Playhouse, 1365 H St. NE, www.scenatheater.org, 703-683-2824.

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