Friday, February 13, 2009

review -Time Stands Still

Time Stands Still
by Donald Margulies
directed by Daniel Sullivan
Geffen Playhouse
through March 15
Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Donald Margulies, like his contemporary John Patrick Shanley, really knows his characters down to the most minute detail: from the color of their underwear to their least favorite breakfast food. More urgently, he has the uncanny ability to shatter us with their innermost feelings. In Dinner With Friends four characters grapple full force with their loyalies to marriage and comaraderie. In his newest play, Time Stands Still, four people are still struggling fiercely with these issues, but it is the incompatibility of career and family (with an emphasis on motherhood) that leaves the most indelible impression.
Sarah (Anna Gunn, in an intensely moving performance) is a photo journalist, covering the atrocities in a Middle East war zone when a bomb explodes at the side of a road and she almost dies from her injuries. Her lover James (David Harbour), also her reporter partner, who left before Sarah's accident due to a near nervous breakdown and then later returned faithfully to her side, wants out of his assignments in favor of a more peaceful marital life in the US with Sarah. The play opens with their return to New York after her European hospitalization. They marry within six months, but are at constant odds over the future. She lives for the cause and wants to return to Europe; he does not. Then Sarah's photo editor Richard (Robin Thomas, in a very understated performance), who encourages the couple to do a coffee table book with the photos from the last perilous assignment, turns his romantic intentions to a much younger woman Mandy (Alicia Silverstone, most impressive) and marries her, to the consternation of Sarah. Mandy in Sarah's mind is nothing more than a child, but Mandy's transformation after marriage into a totally responsible mother conflicts further with Sarah's restless, independent spirit and need for adventure.
Most riveting within the play are the volatile confrontations between Sarah and James, and between Mandy and Sarah and James. Mandy is a tower of strength who really knows herself and where she belongs, and Silverstone's portrayal is a standout. Gunn is great as the tormented and confused Sarah who remains torn at play's end. Harbour's sensitivity is palpable, as is Thomas's caring nature.
Serious issues are presented with little or no humor, but it doesn't matter, as Margulies has penned a totally engaging script that springs to life with four thrilling performances and tight direction from Daniel Sullivan.
5 out of 5 stars


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