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Time Stands Still -- Theater Review

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There are plenty of social issues bandied about in Donald Margulies' new play about a female photographer and her journalist boyfriend coping with the physical and emotional aftereffects of her near-fatal encounter with a roadside bomb in Iraq. But for all its debates about such subjects as the morality of journalists who observe atrocities without interfering or the psychological ramifications of torture porn movies, what "Time Stands Still" is really about is the shifting trajectories of relationships.

It's a familiar subject for the playwright, who explored similar themes in his Pulitzer Prize-winning play about marriage, "Dinner With Friends." And though this latest work occasionally suffers from a surfeit of themes and a lack of focus, it's a nonetheless absorbing, ultimately very moving piece that is receiving a beautifully acted Broadway production.

The play begins with the return of the badly wounded and facially scarred Sarah (Laura Linney) and James (Brian d'Arcy James) to their Brooklyn loft. The couple had been working together in Iraq until a traumatized James left several weeks before her accident.

Now he looks forward to resuming a more peaceful life, helping her recuperate even while she desperately wants to recover quickly so she can return to the front line.
Attempting to dissuade her is the couple's longtime friend and editor, Richard (Eric Bogosian), who shows up with his new and much younger girlfriend, Mandy (Alicia Silverstone), an event planner, in tow.

At first, much humor is generated by Richard's new squeeze, a party planner who at first seems utterly vacuous and whom Sarah contemptuously describes as "embryonic." Indeed, Richard's passionate defense of his relationship to his skeptical friends comprises the play's single funniest scene.

But it soon becomes apparent that Mandy has hidden depths, and that Sarah and James, who have been together for eight years, have far different agendas. At first, Sarah tries to go along, even acceding to James' sudden desire to get married. But she bristles at his newfound interest in writing puff pieces and his desire for a safer, stable life, and he struggles with the knowledge that she had fallen in love with her Iraqi interpreter who was killed in the blast.

The playwright's gifts for sharp, witty dialogue and incisive characterizations are well on display, helping to smooth over the play's occasionally bumpy structure. By the time the fast-paced evening reaches its conclusion, one feels intimately familiar with all of the characters and deeply invested in Sarah and James' inability to reconcile their desires even while still loving each other.

Under the expert direction of Daniel Sullivan, the four performers shine: Linney superbly conveys Sarah's ambitious drive and acerbic intelligence, d'Arcy James is moving as a man who feels his significant other pulling away from him, Bogosian sharply essays the concerned editor going through a midlife change, and Silverstone is touching and funny as the woman who can't understand what drives Sarah and James to live their lives on the edge.

Venue: Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, New York (Through March 21)
Production: The Manhattan Theatre Club
Cast: Laura Linney, Brian d'Arcy James, Eric Bogosian, Alicia Silverstone
Playwright: Donald Margulies
Director: Daniel Sullivan
Scenic designer: John Lee Beatty
Costume designer: Rita Ryack
Lighting designer: Peter Kaczorowski
Sound designer: Darron L. West
Original music: Peter Golub