BOTTOM LINE: Riveting performances and an insightful topic make Time Stands Still an engaging play, but its intellectual emphasis isn’t very subtle.
Provoke me, inspire me, challenge me, delight me. Isn’t that the point of theatre? Plays that require brain power (or at the very least give you something to consider after the curtain falls) create a much more valuable experience for audience members. Time Stands Still achieves the aforementioned, and you can tell it’s trying to. Its attempt to appear intellectual plays as strong as its actual elucidation.
Donald Margulies (Collected Stories, Sight Unseen) has written a character study rife with philosophical food for thought. The two couples in the play are vastly different, yet both pairs seek happiness. The contradiction of their lifestyles, as well as their disdain for the other couple’s way of life, creates a dichotomy of choice. What’s more, both couples come from similar backgrounds, and both live well within the same cultural standards. They even share the same goals, although how they go after them is very different.
Sarah (Laura Linney) and James (Brian d’Arcy James), a photojournalist and reporter respectively, have a penchant for adventure. They have been a couple for eight years, and although their home base is in Brooklyn, their work takes them to the Middle East where they cover the war. They get off on the adrenaline rush of it all, although James has hit an emotional wall after witnessing the atrocities of war.
Mandy (Christina Ricci) and Richard (Eric Bogosian) are a new couple, she almost half his age. Richard, a longtime friend of Sarah and James, relishes in the simplicity that comes with dating someone sweet and nice, rather than someone challenging. Mandy and Richard have a symbiotic relationship and thus, it plays as sincere rather than mismatched. The age difference is irrelevant, as they appreciate each other wholeheartedly.
The four find themselves together after Sarah is critically injured on the job and has to come home to New York to recover. Thus begins a series of meetings (Richard introduces Mandy for the first time), judgments (Sarah can’t take Mandy seriously), and personal revelations (James and Sarah’s relationship is put to the test). Through reunions, occasions, and existential conversations, the characters are able to find a personal awareness about what matters in life, and reflected off of one another, they strive to find happiness.
What greatly helps this play is its ability to let four talented actors create layered characters who become the vehicles for the show’s ultimate message. Although they are archetypes in their own ways, they each represent a truthful person. All four actors have a keen understanding of their characters’ desires and are as present as can be in their own defenses. The script is filled with verbal conflict, and the actors give and receive like highly skilled athletes, passing the advantage back and forth.
Time Stands Still delivers an insightful look into 21st century purpose, both locally and globally. This is a worthwhile topic. What happens, though, is that through the innately philosophical dialogue, the intellectual emphasis builds on top of itself and feels a little heavy handed. Time Stands Still is a wordy play, so it becomes overkill to comment on the topics that are presented. The discourse is actually the plot itself.
This show played as part of Manhattan Theatre Club’s season last spring, and it returns to Broadway (in a new location) after a summer hiatus. It is executed extremely well, both visually and presentationally. And the performances are tremendous — Sarah wouldn’t be such a beeyotch if Linney didn’t have the ability to play to her convictions as she does. Ricci is nuanced and adorable in her Broadway debut (she replaces Alicia Silverstone, who originated the role with MTC; the other three actors reprise their roles). Perfect casting, all the way around.
Time Stands Still is a good choice for a stimulating night on Broadway. While maybe not life changing, director Daniel Sullivan offers a glimpse into the lives of four people whose interactions and situations actually warrant such a glimpse. It’s hard to say no to a thought-provoking story performed by four first-rate actors.
Time Stands Still plays at the Cort Theatre, 138 W. 48th St. Performances are Tue 7 PM, Wed and Sat 2 and 8 PM, Thu-Fri 8 PM, and Sun 3 PM. Tickets are $56.50-$126.50 and available at telecharge.com or by calling 212-239-6200. For more show info visit timestandsstillonbroadway.com, and for more New York theatre reviews visit theasy.com.