Time Stands Still
Which is harder to survive – war or marriage? Or are they one and the same? How much can someone sacrifice for someone else, and how much is too much? These questions, and many others, are posed in Donald Margulies’ challenging, stimulating play Time Stands Still currently in performances at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre.
The play opens with the return of Sarah (Laura Linney) from overseas, when she was badly injured while photographing the war. Her leg is in a cast, her arm is in a sling, and half of her body is covered in scars. Her boyfriend James (Brian d’Arcy James) flutters about her, attempting to provide comfort, until she snaps at him to stop. The emotional distance between the two is apparent; at first glance it can be credited to her near-death experience. but it is quickly apparent that there is much more between the two than a cast and a sling.
James, a freelance war reporter, suffered a nervous breakdown, returned to New York before Sarah did and is suffering from extreme guilt. And Sarah has a few skeletons in her own closet.
The couple is quickly visited by Richard (Eric Bogosian), Sarah’s former lover and current boss, and his new girlfriend Mandy (Alicia Silverstone). Perky, bubbly and energetic, Mandy clearly adores Richard despite his being thirty years her senior, and the easy companionship between the two is presented in sharp contrast to Sarah and James’ complicated, tenuous relationship.
This awkwardness of this initial meeting is extremely entertaining to view, and much of that credit goes to Silverstone, who makes the most of every moment detailing Mandy’s sharp contrast to the rest of the group. She enters their apartment bearing silver metallic balloons and quickly explains why she chose balloons over flowers. Then, when explaining her work as an event planner, she quickly tells the others what “pro bono” means. Even her abrupt, fervent admission to Sarah that she prayed for her, even though she doesn’t believe in God, elicited laughs from the audience. In contrast to Silverstone, Bogosian seems flat and uninteresting, but the two do share a comfortable chemistry, making their relationship believable and endearing.
The fire in this production comes from d’Arcy James, who gives an impassioned performance as James. Bewildered and confused by his love for Sarah and her reluctance to commit to a more conventional lifestyle. His devotion is apparent, his commitment unwavering, and when the two fight and he lets erupts with fierce shouting, it is truly terrifying.
But it is Linney who quietly carries this show on her slender, tightly squared shoulders. She depicts Sarah’s detachment from James and their loft in Brooklyn and her determination to continue photographing the war in a restrained, yet powerful performance. When asked to defend her decision as a photographer to record the events she witnesses, instead of involving herself and possibly helping people, she gives a calculated – and somewhat cold – response. It’s her job to take pictures, she says, and when people see the pictures, it inspires them to get involved. That’s how she helps. And she seems firm in that resolve, even when James sadly asks, her, “Do you actually think what you’re doing makes a difference?”
Marguiles mentions just a few of the countless conflicts that war inspires in people and he does a commendable job of integrating them into modern-day conversations between everyday people. By mentioning Sarah’s determination to return to Iraq as soon as she heals, he also delicately touches upon the addictive nature of war, especially to those who report on it. While the play’s conclusion is somewhat predictable, it is a relevant, well-executed production with a truly excellent cast that had this critic thinking about it long after she left the theater.