By Lucy Komisar
Donald Margulies’s powerful and moving play dissects the professional and psychological passion of a photographer who covers the horrors of wars, famine, and genocide. Time stands still represents the moment when she presses the shutter button and sees the world only through the view finder. Time stops, sound cuts out; her experience is just what is taking place in the rectangle. There is an objectifying and separation from reality. And for Sarah Goodwin (Laura Linney) it’s the only moment in life that counts.
Now, she’s come back to her walk-up loft in Williamsburg (the lower-rent Brooklyn neighborhood to which artists have moved) after getting seriously injured by a roadside bomb in Iraq. Her head is full of shrapnel, her leg is busted. James Dodd (Brian D’Arcy James), the journalist she lives with, has brought her back from a hospital in Germany, guilty that before the attack he returned to New York, shell shocked by his reporting experience, and left her alone in Iraq.
Director Daniel Sullivan’s staging is crisp and unsentimental.
Sarah is tougher than James in every way, even brutally critical about his writing. He wants to live where he doesn’t get parasites, where his back doesn‘t hurt following the war du jour. For her, work comes first, before a personal relationship.
But this is not just a personal drama, which is the easy Hollywood style of dumbing down serious issues. Sarah and James are people with interesting lives, interesting thoughts. One is the issue: Are photographers exploiting their subjects?
Sarah is challenged on that by Mandy Bloom (Alicia Silverstone), the new 25-year-old girlfriend of Richard Ehrlich (Eric Bogosian), the middle-aged photo editor of the magazine for which Sarah and James freelance. Mandy, a bit of a ditz who works as an event planner (Richard met her at a museum party for a book about Darfur), arrives with get well balloons.
Mandy asks Sarah, How could you stand there and do nothing when she sees people suffering in disasters. Sarah replies, I’m not doing nothing, I’m taking their picture. On the one hand, Sarah says that the camera is there to record life, not change it. But she also acknowledges she is driven to do her work because it will change things. Or is she pulled in by the drama?
Margulies’ repartee is sharp and clever and shifts the moods to underline the complexity and subtlety of his story. When Mandy leaves the room, Sarah and James ride Richard, You always wanted a little girl and, There’s young and there’s embryonic. When the men go for ice cream, Sarah quips, Hunt, gather… She calls her father’s second wife Evita instead of Evelyn.
Sarah and James represent the bright and adventurous. Richard is a decent guy, doing the best he can to help his friends as an editor, but worn down by the bureaucracy and by a previous smart but demanding girl friend. He is settling for comfort.
Linney is intense and driven as Sarah. Through her we get a sense of the mind and spirit of any committed and creative person.
Brian d’Arcy James shows James as resolute but also vulnerable. He erupts in anger on personal matters, as when the magazine doesn’t run his story, but he is also sensitive and forgiving when Sarah admits a betrayal.
Eric Bogosian is appropriately mild as the corporate cog who has given in and given up, as if all passion has been snuffed out. Alice Silverstone is good as the wide-eyed, Mandy, the child-like creature who has her conventional life mapped out.
Margulies has given us another very fine, very intelligent play about people, their dreams and how they persevere — or settle.
Time Stands Still. Written by Donald Margulies; Directed by Daniel Sullivan. Manhattan Theatre Club, Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, 261 West 47th Street, New York City. 212-239-6200. Opened January 28, 2010; Closes March 27, 2010.