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TIME STANDS STILL

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Photo by Joan Marcus
Laura Linney as Sarah
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Review by Tulis McCall
08 Oct 2010

Donald Margulies wants you to think, and he won’t take no for an answer.

A photojournalist, Sarah Goodwin (Laura Linney), has returned home from an unnamed war (think Afghanistan) after being blown up by a roadside bomb - you know, the ones we hear so much about and to which we pay so little attention. She was the survivor of a bomb that killed her “fixer” – interpreter – with whom she was also in love. She is scarred, literally and figuratively, bruised, angry, and guilty.

Her partner of eight years James (Brian d’Arcy James ) was back in New York when the bomb hit, having been a victim of the same war himself when a woman and child were blown to bits, and those bits ended up spattered all over him. He had a breakdown and was sent packing. Now he is a blocked writer walking on eggshells because of his own love, and fear and guilt.

These two people were on shaky ground before their respective accidents and now they are alone with their relationship and their lives.

Into this fragile nest barges Richard Erlich, (Eric Bogosian) their editor, and his new lady Mandy Bloom (Christin Ricci) who appears to be younger than Richard by over half. These two are in love, love, love. Exactly what Sarah and James don’t need. When the news breaks that Richard and Mandy are expecting a child, things get a little weird. Weird like in “Let’s get married” weird. Whereas this was not necessary before, James has had an epiphany. The combination of Sarah’s accident and the fact that he had no say in her treatment, and the impending birth of their friend’s child has made him focus.

James wants a normal life. No more war. Just normal. Problem is, Sarah not only wants to be a war photographer, she lusts after it. In the end this is a beautifully written story about the twain not meeting.

Who needs what and why? Is James avoiding his real calling as a correspondent by looking for a secure and comfortable relationship? Is Sarah’s devotion to being on the front line merely self-aggrandizement? Is wanting not to know about war a cop out? How is it that a person can take a picture of a mother and a dying child and appear so clinical, so devoted to the work and lacking compassion? Or is she capable of and experiencing the entire scope of what she is covering? Who is the person who runs from cruelty? Who is the person who, in the face of love and new life, longs for the chaos of war?

I saw this production in its first incarnation at the Friedman Theatre and since then it has aged well. The relationship between Sarah and James is peeled like an onion. This is intimacy of the heart and soul that leaves you elevated from the depth of the writing and the commitment of these two actors. What fares less well is the choice of Christina Ricci as Mandy. I saw Alicia Silverstone in the original role and was surprised by her tenacity and strength. All that is gone with Ms. Ricci. Mandy is actually the pivotal role in this story. She brings in the new life and light to a dark corner of Manhattan. But she is also gut-smart as presented in the text. At best, Ms. Ricci is cloying when she is calm. When she arrives at her few moments of anger she is unprepared for the leap and ends up sounding like very angry, and possibly dangerous, small animal. This undermines Mandy’s place in this quartet, and thus throws off the balance that the three other actors have achieved. Unfortunate.

What is left is not so bad, however, especially in the scenes with Linney and d’Arcy James. In their hands the questions Margulies raises get their full due. Even when the text scurries around an issue, the actors don’t. The silences are loaded with live ammo and the words are offered as the best each has to give. They don’t always hit their mark, but these characters never stop trying.

Lots to chew on here.

(Tulis McCall)


What the popular press said...

"Audiences who couldn’t make time for this rewarding play last spring now have a second chance to catch it."
Charles Isherwood for New York Times

"Under Daniel Sullivan's sure-handed direction, the cast is uniformly excellent, a perfectly pitched quartet."
Joe Dziemianowicz for New York Daily News

"Linney subtly suggests that Sarah's self-righteous hostility may be a defense mechanism. But this new wrinkle isn't enough to make up for the play's many contrivances and false notes."
Elisabeth Vincentelli for New York Post

"On second viewing, I found the play even more satisfying."
John Simon for Bloomberg

"An unusually satisfying evening of theater: smart, funny, touching, tightly written and very wise about the unpredictable courses of relationships."
Robert Feldberg for The Record

"When the show is over you may feel as if something were missing, which perhaps is the greater picture behind this personal drama."
Michael Sommers for The Record

"Smart, stylish, timely and layered."
Michael Kuchwara for Associated Press

External links to full reviews from popular press...

New York Times - New York Daily News - New York Post - Bloomberg - The Record - Newsroom Jersey

Production Details
Venue: Cort Theatre
Genre: Drama
Previewed: 23 Sep 2010
Opened 7 Oct 2010
Closed 30 Jan 2011
Note: Time stands still played an earlier engagement at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre from 5 Jan - 27 Mar 2010.
Writer: Donald Margulies
Director: Daniel Sullivan
Synopsis: James and Sarah, a journalist and a photographer, have been together for nine years and share a passion for documenting the realities of war. But when injuries force them to return home to New York, the adventurous couple confronts the prospect of a more conventional life.
Cast: Reed Birney (John), Celia Keenan-Bolger (Jenny), Michele Pawk (Emily) and Victor Williams (Billy).

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