Theatre Review by Matthew Murray - October 7, 2010
Time Stands Still by Donald Margulies. Directed by Daniel Sullivan. Scenic design by John Lee Beatty. Costume design by Rita Ryack. Lighting design by Peter Kaczorowski. Sound design by Darron L. West. Original music by Peter Golub. Fight Director Thomas Schall. Cast: Eric Bogosian, Brian D’Arcy James, Laura Linney, Christina Ricci.
These include director Daniel Sullivan; designers John Lee Beatty (sets), Rita Ryack (costumes), Peter Kaczorowski (lights), and Darron L. West (sound); and cast members Laura Linney, Brian d'Arcy James, and Eric Bogosian. With one key exception, there are few specific differences in the work; most are only those that moderate-length runs naturally elicit. (The play ran for only two months, though it received Tony nominations for Linney and for Best Play.) But those alone are sufficient to make an evening that was already engaging and thought-provoking into one that's even crisper and more affecting.
Central to this is the gentle but noticeable burnishing of the pairing of Sarah (Linney) and her longtime live-in boyfriend, James (d'Arcy James). Even more than before, you feel the tension that simmers between them because of the similarities and differences on which they've constructed their love: she's more successful in her job than he is as a freelance writer, she greatly appreciates yet on some level resents needing his help after an accident on the battlefield has left her face pockmarked and one leg next to useless, and they both believe the other possesses talent that is not yet being fully tapped. They both want too much — and not enough.
As the characters face these problems, and each other, in ways they've never had to before, the actors display the finer-tuned subtleties they've unlocked in these difficult people. Sarah now seems to care much more for James than she did before, which makes their slow-motion disintegration even more poignant. James is quicker to anger and spout recriminations, whether about Sarah's own withering life, her potential affair, or even a play he feels trivializes the terror he's seen with his own eyes. Taken together, they incite a churning toxicity that always keeps you keenly aware of the dangers they're facing and fighting against.
Yet neither Linney nor d'Arcy James calls attention to these new qualities. They all seem to have evolved naturally from what was there before, and taken root in the actors' psyches in just the way the most honest performances should but can't always do. Every grasp at keeping things together, or strained attempt at humor that recognizes how things are crumbling, feels fully earned, and like a piece of a more complex puzzle than was necessarily on view the last time. Their break from the play — hers to film the Showtime series The Big C, he to briefly rejoin Alice Ripley in Next to Normal — has focused, rather than broadened, what were already satisfying portrayals.
It's much clearer, then, why Richard's relationship with the much-younger Mandy thrives: As do Sarah and James, they share the same philosophy, if farther beneath the surface. Mandy is the representative of the casual real world that knows what it needs to know, but doesn't necessarily believe promoting suffering and solving suffering are one and the same. Though Margulies often deploys her for comic relief, Mandy is also the most genuine of the quartet: unwilling, or perhaps unable, to lie or mislead for effect, and thus the one who is best prepared for facing the life she wants and figuring out how to make it happen.
With the original Alicia Silverstone in this role, you never entirely bought Mandy's angry need for order. But now, recast with Christina Ricci (the films The Opposite of Sex and The Ice Storm), you see her as every bit as passionate as Sarah and James, just about other things (such as civility and family) that they would consider secondary concerns at best. This adds some real heat to the second act, when Mandy defends Richard's career and her beliefs when Sarah and James attack them — and a true tenderness when Sarah comes to regard her as an unusual but nonetheless powerful equal.
That's not insignificant. It shows that, over the eight and a half months, Time Stands Still has morphed from a precisely plotted, if slightly (but never abrasively) preachy, drama into an even more vivid dissection of all quarters of the human condition. There's no easy way out for any of us, whether we're on the front lines or exposed only to the images of the aftermath. Yet through careful adjustments and retooling, Sullivan and his company have gone even further than once they did in showing how being so trapped can in fact sometimes set you free.