Eric Bogosian, Brian D’Arcy James, Laura Linney, Alicia Silverstone
“I’m a real fun date, aren’t I?” Sarah Goodwin, played by Laura Linney, proclaims in the opening scene of Time Stands Still, a new play by Donald Margulies opening on Broadway as part of Manhattan Theatre Club’s current season.
A war photographer who’s returned to her Brooklyn loft following a serious accident, crutches and a facial scar in tow, Sarah has reason to doubt herself. She’s in pain, not only physically but emotionally, and the realities of home life are jarring to her after months on the field, taking pictures in the midst of situations to which she’s not sure she should have been privy in the first place.
Sarah, whose husband James (Brian D’Arcy James), a writer, left her alone for a time in the Middle East while she and her local guide (“fixer”) became increasingly intimate, struggles to put together the pieces of a life that she’s unsure of now that she’s at least temporarily disabled and unable to move freely and do what she’d like to do.
All the while, James is content to stay at home watching third-rate horror flicks in search of a more palatable topic for a nonfiction book and her mentor-cum-editor Richard (Eric Bogosian) and his younger girlfriend (Alicia Silverstone) aren’t making matters any easier.
Margulies’s play unfolds smartly over the course of two hours, ethical questions raised and addressed with an adult seriousness uncommon in contemporary Broadway playwriting. Rather than searching for easy answers to life’s mysteries, the play is content to explore their complexities and leave an audience to draw its own conclusions.
What is the place of the observer in the midst of atrocity? What’s the use of documenting rather than helping? Is love meant to be monogamous? Or is it more complicated than that? Margulies attempts to find the blurry, gray middle place where the not-quite-answers loom uneasily.
Heading a spectacular cast, Laura Linney makes Sarah a flesh-and-blood character, incredibly fraught and yet – in her consideration of the lives of others – incredibly relatable. Linney, one of the finest actresses of our time, is able, with the graceful forward motion of one of her crutches, to convey the emotion of a scene in ways that few actresses could. It’s a testament to Linney that Sarah, a character who is admittedly apt to complaining, is as three-dimensional as she is.
By her side, as James, is Brian D’Arcy James, who has rarely, if ever, been better on-stage. His helpfulness one moment gives way to anger and frustration the next as he struggles with the fact that Sarah is the star of the two of them, the one who’s the subject of the public’s adoration. When she was hurt overseas, James admits, he looked forward to the opportunity to care for her, to express his love.
Providing ample support are Eric Bogosian as magazine editor Richard and Alicia Silverstone as Mandy, his young event planner girlfriend (a somewhat hackneyed character that Silverstone breathes life into nonetheless). Though their roles occupy less stage time, each nevertheless creates a useful juxtaposition against the central couple of the play, two sets mismatched lovers – one that’s able to make it work and one that isn’t.
Ultimately, Time Stands Still may raise more questions than it could possibly answer, and occasionally the weight of the material threatens to crush its rather brisk, occasionally fun pace. But at its heart, it’s a prodigiously smart new play from a veteran writer with a cast that rises to the occasion.