'Time Stands Still'

Empty

Donald Margulies' new play takes place in the hermetically sealed world of a journalistic couple — a photographer recovering from injuries suffered in a roadside bombing (Anna Gunn) and a shell-shocked reporter (David Harbour) — whose relationship was born and lived out in the terror and strife of the Middle East.

Returning home to her Brooklyn apartment, the two are confronted with life on the home front, which they initially feel confident in facing. The microscopic irritant in their apparent oyster is Alicia Silverstone, the new partner of their longtime publisher (Robin Thomas). An apparent airhead, Silverstone raises troubling moral and ethical issues that unintentionally push the couple's relationship to the edge.

The dialogue is authentic — sad and funny, outraged and tender. Margulies obviously cares deeply about his characters and their ability to function on a home front free of any reference to political controversy. He is thereby able to focus on the implications of a post-Bush world in which hope and salvation require facing up to the details, not the causes, of the horror.

Margulies has structured the story — simple on the surface but gaining complexity by being laid over multiple mine fields of experience, betrayal and love — with a clear road map. Faced with constraints of time and space, however, the playwright hurries Gunn in particular, and Harbour to a lesser extent, through the navigation of their emotional voyages.

Director Daniel Sullivan is adept at choreographing the configurations on the large and (not inappropriately) cluttered set when all four actors are onstage. But when it's only Gunn and Harbour, their movements lack energy. And as they grow apart and become separated by the wide dimensions of the physical stage, the symbolic use of the visual image gets in the way of their working together.

At the end, we are left with compassion and understanding for people not so different from ourselves who survive a terrible external reality beyond their control — and whose collateral damage consists of broken bones, nightmares and heartbreaking domestic woes — only by skating its gravest implications. (partialdiff)
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