Sunday, January 31, 2010

Taking the Pulse

Time Stands Still

A play by Donald Margulies/Directed by Daniel Sullivan


Starring Laura Linney, Brian D’Arcy James, Eric Bogosian, Alicia Silverstone
Performances January 5—March 21, 2010
Friedman Theater, 252 West 47th Street

Author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Dinner with Friends, Collected Stories and Brooklyn Boy, Donald Margulies has written a new drama, Time Stands Still, that touches on familiar themes—the value of love, betrayal, friendship and morality—with powerful force. Thrillingly enacted by a cast of four led by the incandescent Laura Linney, the urgent, resonant Time Stands Still receives a nearly perfect staging by director Daniel Sullivan, who smoothes out the play’s few rough patches to stunningly evoke a volatile post-9/11 world which wreaks havoc on personal relationships.

Famed photographer Sarah Goodwin (Linney) has just returned from Iraq, where she was nearly killed by a roadside bomb. (Her interpreter-lover Fariq was blown to bits.) Her boyfriend, journalist-writer James (Brian D’Arcy James), brings her to their Brooklyn apartment to convalesce. She has numerous scars on her face, arms and legs from shrapnel, walks with a limp and a crutch and has an arm in a sling: her physical appearance mirrors James’ mental state—he was with her in Iraq but left before her injuries because of a breakdown he had after witnessing a different horrific suicide bomb attack. Also welcoming Sarah back is Richard (Eric Bogosian), her photo editor at a New Yorker-like magazine; the mid-50ish Richard introduces his new girlfriend Mandy (Alicia Silverstone), a much younger bimbo-event planner.

In Margulies’ deft hands, this quartet becomes more than mere caricatured New York liberals dealing with their mainly impotent responses to a terrifying new world. Through his terrifically realistic—and always biting—dialogue, Margulies’ usual display of wit and wisdom give them greater complexity, leaving their initially self-absorbed personas behind.

The weakest parts of the play are the moments when Mandy becomes a mouthpiece for the hoi polloi, standing on her soapbox to call out the cranky, sarcastic Sarah or idealistic James on their lofty arrogance. She earnestly explains how taking pictures and reporting in war zones avoid moral stances since they don’t help those who are suffering.

The acting is astonishing. Silverstone imbues Mandy with freshness and dignity, Bogosian’s gruff exterior masks Richard’s sympathetic nature, and D’Arcy James makes James an appealing mix of charm and hard-headedness. Linney—one of our most remarkable actresses—finds the humor and gentleness beneath Sarah’s tough outer shell in a performance that would come off as cold and calculating if I weren’t played with such lightness and precision.

Sullivan’s estimable production has one flaw, replacing the script’s ominous ending with a more theatrical but facile image of Sarah pointing her camera at the audience. But overall, Time Stands Still bracingly shows a major playwright unflinchingly taking the pulse of an America still unsure of which path to take.

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