Sunday, October 10, 2010

A Welcome Return

Linney, James, Bogosian and Ricci in Time Stands Still (photo by Joan Marcus)
Time Stands Still
Written by Donald Margulies
Directed by Daniel Sullivan
Starring Laura Linney, Brian D’Arcy James, Eric Bogosian, Christina Ricci
Performances began September 23, 2010
Cort Theater, 138 West 48th Street

Any doubts that Donald Margulies is our best American playwright are put to rest by Time Stands Still. When I first saw this powerful play about two journalists whose relationship is as fraught with land mines as the war-torn regions they visit, it was a compelling and extremely well-acted drama. Seeing it again cements that opinion: Margulies’ peerless writing and exceptional performances and direction make this the lone “must-see” play currently on the boards.

Photographer Sarah Goodwin and journalist James Dodd live together in a Brooklyn loft. When the play begins, James brings Sarah back from a hospital in Germany, where she spent two weeks unconscious after being badly wounded by a roadside bomb in Iraq. James returned earlier following a breakdown caused by his witnessing a grisly bombing, and they’re now beginning a new chapter in their relationship. They are visited by close friend Richard, successful magazine photo editor, and his latest girlfriend, “event planner” Mandy, two decades younger than Richard, whose naiveté contrasts with their devil-may-care lives.

Instead of facilely dramatizing Big Events, Margulies dissects Sarah and James’ relationship by instead showing aftermaths, as we see the couple returning from the latest hellhole; Sarah after beginning physical therapy (the psychic wounds, Margulies suggests, are masked by her hardheaded exterior); Sarah coming home from her first job since getting back; the couple after their wedding celebration (they lived together for nine years before decided to get hitched).

Daniel Sullivan’s finely-honed direction gets right to the essence of the author’s painful words with extreme precision, with John Lee Beatty’s lived-in apartment as the perfect setting for the couple’s escalating battles. The extraordinary cast includes the lone newcomer, Christina Ricci, who plays Mandy with a mixture of guilelessness and toughness that makes her transformation from bimbo to loving mother convincingly real. The remaining actors’ portrayals have gotten more penetrating and complex: Eric Bogosian’s Richard has deepened his emotional responses to his friends’ return and his own relationship with Mandy, while Brian D’Arcy James even more incisively reveals James’ psychological wounds that have accumulated over the years.

Laura Linney continues to give a master class in subtlety, with small touches that underline Sarah’s emotional and physical well-being: notice how determinedly she pulls clothes out of her drawer while packing for a trip. An actress of such raw vitality that she can even create an irresistible character in the otherwise resistible Showtime series The Big C, Linney has an understated bravura that makes her performance the main reason to visit (or re-revisit) Time Stands Still, and that’s with apologies to Donald Margulies and his important, relevant play.

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