A CurtainUp Review
Time Stands Still
Yes, war drama is a label that fits this latest work from Margulies, a Pulitzer runnerup (Collected Stories) and Pulitzer winner (Dinner With Friends), to name just two of his always compelling, well crafted plays. But, like those dramas, the setting is once again a comfortable New York home, just as its dialogue reveals enough discussion provoking issues for several plays. ( Collected Stories tackled the conundrum of whether confidences shared between friends are morally fair game as the source for literature by the listener; Dinner With Friends explored the fallout of one couple's divorce on their friends' lives; and Sight Unseen dealt with issues of race and modern art via the reunion of a successful aritst and his former model and lover).
Time Stands Still is no more an action story than any of Mr. Margulies' previous plays. The only violent images we actually see are excerpts from Invasion of the Body Snatchers on the TV screen that's part of James' determinedly new "normal" life as a horor film critic rather than catastrophe chronicler. Its issues serve as the subtext for a double love story: the physical and psychological fallout of war, the ethical question about making, as Sarah admits, "a career on the sorrows of others, " and the economics of modern print publications that have serious stories fighting for space with eyeball attracting puff stuff.
Front and center we have Sarah and James, who have been too busy documenting war's casualties to make their 9-year relationship legal. There's also the less complicated counterpoint May-December relationship of their friend and editor Richard Ehrlich (Eric Bogosian) and Mandy Bloom (Alicia Silverstone), a young events planner whose blooming with child body serves as the play's time frame. At the beginning, just after James has brought a still badly wounded Sarah home to their Brooklyn loft after an extended hospital stay and Richard and Mandy visit them, her belly is still flat. The next time we see her she's visibly pregnant, and it's not long after the baby is born that we learn whether our midway through guess about the future of both couples' relationships was correct.
While Margulies brings his usual flair for writing trenchant dialogue and posing thoughtful questions but avoiding preachy polemics, Time Stands Still is once again blessed to have Daniel Sullivan give his script a handsomely detailed, subtly orchestrated production. Laura Linney, who was also in MTC's 2004 revival of Sight Unseen (another Sullivan directed production), made this a two thrilling performances week in the theater for me, the other by Liev Scheiber in A View From the Bridge (review).
Linney's performance is an extraordinary display of the power of conveying inner thoughts and feeling whether speaking or silent. But while Linney, like Schreiber, is likely to be collecting Best Actor statues at this year's various awards ceremonies, she is very much part of an ensemble production. All four of the actors fusing their characters with the finesse of a fine, comfortably compatible string quartet.
The versatile Brian D'Arcy James adds yet another gold star to a resume that ranges from solo shows to musicals (Most recently Shrek) is warm and endearing as James. Eric Bogosian's Richard is also likeable and convincing. He toasts Sarah and James as the "golden couple" through whose adventures he's lived vicariously and does his best to help them find satisfying work, realizing that Sarah especially is a " war junkie," always needing the next adrenaline fix. His relationship with Mandy is a release from a different type of battle fatigue — the stress of dealing with changing priorities at the magazine he edits and a failed marriage. As for Silverstone, who is the only member of the cast who was in the Los Angeles premiere, she manages to have Mandy start out as Richard's somewhat ditzy, if it's on your lung it's on your tongue trophy, but turns out to be a lot smarter and more sensitive. It is Mandy who gives voice to the often discussed ethical dilemma of whether photojournalists like Sarah's work is exploitative or valid.
Time Stands Still may not win another Pulitzer for Mr. Margulies, but, sad to say, it will remain timely well after this run ends and is certain to have numerous other productions. The current cast certainly sets a high watermark, for future actors to follow.
Links to other reviews of plays by Donald Margulies
Collected Stories-MTC . . .Collected Stories-Berkshires . . .Collected Stories-Uta Hagen
Dinner With Friends the Margulies Pulitzer Prize winner
God of Vengeance
Shipwrecked! An Entertainment(2009)
Sight Unseen-NY. . .Sight Unseen-NJ
Time Stands Still-LA