photo by Ryan Fagan
From left, Glen Coffman, Emily Gates, Carley Elizabeth Preston and Christopher Younggren search for answers in "Time Stands Still" at Live Theatre Workshop.

Live Theatre Workshop goes for the gold with an intense and insightful production of "Time Stands Still" by Donald Margulies. While LTW may be best known for its high-energy comedies, this show is not one of those.

Set against the endless wars across the Middle East, which some American publications feel compelled to cover, playwright Margulies dives deep into exploring questions of whether this violent coverage is essential to an informed society or whether it has become just more entertainment for mass market magazines.

Eva Tessler, no stranger to directing powerful plays on Mexican border issues, takes her estimable skills straight to the desert battles of Iraq, drawing fine performances out of Carley Elizabeth Preston and Christopher Younggren playing two bonded adrenaline junkies hooked on front line reporting from those obscure battle zones that rarely break through American headlines obsessed with Trump and racism.

Also cast are Glen Coffman as Richard the photo editor of an unnamed, though elite, magazine and Emily Gates as his young wife Mandy, whose "simple" interests represent the general public.

Preston's energy drives this production. She plays Sarah, a hard-nosed combat photographer so dedicated to military conflict it wouldn't surprise anyone if she designed her kitchen in a camouflage pattern, because military outposts are where she feels most comfortable.

Matching her torque-jawed attitude with his own determination to survive any battle is Younggren as James, an equally dedicated war correspondent. But he is beginning to suspect there might be more to life than the challenge of surviving these conflicts.

"Time Stands Still" is set in their New York City apartment, which always feels tossed about because each of them is forever dashing off on some suddenly critical assignment.

But this time Sarah has arrived back home badly injured by a roadside bomb that almost turned her into a newspaper obituary. James feels somewhat responsible, prompting his suspicion that maybe the two of them won't be lucky forever.

James is also a movie buff, seeing 1950s science fiction flicks as metaphors for civilian fears fed by the Cold War. He has lots of theories about the crossroads of entertainment and politics.

Some of these theories are shared with Richard, a longtime friend who is helping shepherd a freelance story James wrote, trying to get it into the magazine where Richard works.

The  heart of Margulies' play centers on the discussions these three have. Sarah is a true believer giving extreme value to her pictures of civilian suffering that she risks her life daily to shoot and send back to the States. These are photos of refugee horrors that must be seen.

James has a somewhat more theoretical view, recognizing that her pictures and his stories won't get published unless the magazine editors believe the readers are interested.

Richard, who wears clean clothes to work in an air conditioned New York office every day, knows the gritty stories of his two friends are competing for magazine space with glamour tales of  Hollywood celebrities, hot fashions and the latest new digital devices.

Mandy the innocent one throws everybody's opinions into a tossed hat when she asks why Sarah and James don't drop their cameras and note pads, stop being reporters, and instead do something to actually help the people who are  dying right before their eyes.

Is this coverage important to Americans living comfortable lives -- to justifying the world's most expensive military forces -- or just important to the nameless refugees and victims of selfish violence in lands where this forever war has become a numbing Hell.

And what about the war correspondents? Do they owe any responsibility to the people dying all around? Should they be helping the wounded on both sides --- or are they supposed to stay neutral, like referees in a violent football game?

All four friends have a different answer. All four actors deliver their thoughts with intense conviction. Can they all be right?

Margulies doesn't pick sides, either. Just like it says on Fox News: "We report, you decide."

"Time Stands Still" continues through March 30, with performances at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays, (also 3 p.m. March 30)  at Live Theatre Workshop, 5317 E. Speedway Blvd. Tickets are $15 Thursdays, $20 all others. For details and reservations, 327-4242, or visit livetheatreworkshop.org

At the Gaslight Theatre, dancing girls and cowboys remind us how the west was won.

Gaslight Theatre goes back to its roots for a fresh look at "The Belle of Tombstone." Echoes of traditional Old West "mellerdrama" fills the eastside hall, with many of the songs feeling like originals written with the twang of wide open spaces.

This time around, Heather Stricker rules the roost as strong-willed Belle, owner of the Silver Dollar Saloon in red hot Tombstone, a new town in the Arizona Territory, sizzling with opportunity -- especially for anyone lucky enough to strike it rich at one of the many mining claims in them thar hills,

On hand to ruin everybody's day is dapper Jack Diamond (Mike Yarema), an unusually lucky gambler and the only man in town who owns a three  piece suit. One of Jack's most reliable income streams is the claim he has to a silver mine.

Jack keeps selling the claim to suckers, and then buying it back for next to nothing when the sucker  never finds any silver. Unfortunately, Belle's hapless bartender Frank (Jacob Brown) is the latest dreamer to buy that claim. Belle is furious but Frank is convinced he will be wealthy soon.

Coming onstage for his share of the action is the eponymously named Johnny Ringo (Todd Thompson), Arizona's dastardly Man in Black famous for wearing that big iron on his hip. When Johnny teams up with Jack everyone else in Tombstone is defenseless. 

That's when we meet the ebullient lawman Ned Wingate (Jake Chapman), a masterful optimist who aims to clean up crime and give Tombstone a future.

Eager to add their own brand of beauty to the scene are Patsy the Prairie Nightingale (Erin Thompson) and bright-eyed Margarita (Janee Page), a showgirl who can't resist being drawn to the wrong side of the tracks.

There's a who lot of singing and jawing before all this gets worked out, also a runaway stage coach, a dynamite accident in the mine shaft and the set-up for one of Gaslight's most famous jokes -- the one about hearing about a herd of cattle ("Sure, I've heard of cattle.")

After 40 years of sold-out shows, some of Gaslight's jokes are as famous as its actors. This is also the show that asks the question: "What do you  get when you throw a piano down a mine shaft?"

Spoiler alert: "A-flat minor" or (a flat miner....get it?)

In keeping with the times, this cast used to living in those wide open spaces returns with its Grand Ol' Opry Olio. Included in the song list are tributes to Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, Minnie Pearl and Porter Wagoner. 

Charlie Hall was a cut above the rest, singing a medley of Freddy Fender favorites, "Til the Next Teardrop Falls," "Wasted Days" and "Que Paso." 

But my personal favorite was Grandpa's Jug Band with players on a jug, a set of spoons, a washboard, a washtub bass and a guitar.

"The Belle of Tombstone" continues through March 31 with performances at various times Tuesdays through Sundays in the Gaslight Theatre, 7010 E. Broadway Blvd. Tickets (plus tax) are $22.95 adults; $20.95 students, seniors, military; $12.95 children age 2-12. For details and reservations, 520-886-9428, or visit www.thegaslighttheatre.com