Review by Ellen Anthony, Broadway Magazine
Manhattan Theatre Club’s production of Donald Margulies newest play, “Time Stands Still,” is a smart, moving and, at times, funny story about both intimacy and estrangement. What is so surprising about this recent play is that it is able to successfully prove that all contemporary plays do not have to have the verbal fireworks of Neil LaBute, the cleverness of David Mamet, or even the hyper-intellectualism of a Woody Allen film to be engaging. Though the play is a bit reminiscent of a work by Allen, Mamet, or LaBute, it is better—there is an authenticity to the characters that makes Margulies’ take on the “relationship” play unique and fresh.
It is not surprising that Margulies, a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright himself, can write sensitive characters and intelligent dialogue, but this play is perhaps better than his well known “Dinner With Friends” because of its sheer simplicity. It beautifully resurrects the familiar genre of naturalism and does so with such ease and grace that we wonder why plays like this aren’t on Broadway all the time.
The story begins by introducing us to a photojournalist named Sarah (Laura Linney) and her long time partner James (Brian d’Arcy James) as they arrive home from Germany where she was being treated after surviving a roadside bomb attack in Iraq. On crutches, arm in a sling, and with visible wounds on her face, Sarah’s struggles, both physically and emotionally, are at the heart of this story. An experienced and at times hardened photographer she is both a serious yet somewhat detached observer of the world’s atrocities, using her camera to chronicle violence and inhumanity. Upon returning home and meeting with her editor, she is suddenly (and hilariously) thrown together with his seemingly moronic girlfriend, Mandy (an outstanding Christina Ricci) who chit chats her way though much of the first act.
Sarah’s long time partner James, who was originally with her in Iraq but returned several weeks before after an emotional breakdown, now looks forward to resuming a more normal life. Longing to get married and start a family, he is envious of the simplicity of Richard’s (Eric Bogosian) and Mandy’s new relationship. Though the scene in which the two couples initially meet is extremely funny, it also sets the stage for an exploration of more serious issues. At one point, Sarah begins to show her photographs and Mandy recoils in horror and disgust, naively but rather poignantly questioning why Sarah doesn’t actually try to help these people, in particular a young child who has been badly burned. Her naiveté is what makes it possible for her to ask certain questions.
In the end, however, the play is more about love than politics and the story of Sarah and James is what is most interesting. Laura Linney and Brian d’Arcy James have a natural chemistry, all the time making you forget you are in a theatre at all.
This production is expertly directed by Daniel Sullivan, primarily because it does not feel directed. His minimalism suits a Margulies’ work perfectly. The set and costumes are equally unobtrusive, saying much about the casual hipness of a Brooklyn flat by not saying much at all. It is a production that is both entertaining and insightful, combining powerful performances and a perceptive eye for contemporary issues and complications.