Time Stands Still Theatre Review - The Light of Reality

The cast of "Time Stands Still" at the Geffen Playhouse in Westwood

Returning in collaboration, playwright Donald Margulies and director Daniel Sullivan give us Time Stands Still, an original commission presented by The Geffen Playhouse.  And so stands still time in this new work that pays heed to the roles we all play in those rare moments of life where routine is broken and life is presented for reflection in all its brutal honesty.  

Anna Gunn & David Harbour in "Time Stands Still"

Sarah (Anna Gunn), a fervently passionate photojournalist, and James (David Harbour), her reporter boyfriend of eight years, find their usual guerilla-style, fanatic life of documenting the war in Iraq interrupted after Sarah falls victim to a roadside bomb that leaves her near death and in a coma for two weeks.  The play commences at their return to their trendy-before-it-was-trendy Williamsburg apartment after a six-week stay in the hospital.  

And there they are, confronted with the awkwardness of the stillness of time.  Sarah is unhappily debilitated by a broken arm and leg, both wrapped in temporary casts and severe facial scars.  James is overly attentive and burdened with guilt.  He had left Sarah alone just weeks prior, needing time to recover from a sudden and newly developed case of shell-shock that rendered him unable to stay. 

Robin Thomas and Alicia Silverstone in "Time Stands Still"

Soon after their return, Sarah’s senior editor Richard (Robin Thomas) visits them with his new, much younger girlfriend Mandy (Alicia Silverstone).  Mandy bears the gift of two helium balloons touting the messages “Get Well” and “Welcome Home”.  (Both messages were applicable and so she couldn’t just decide on one.)

Several minor events proceed: both couples get married, Mandy get’s pregnant, Sarah returns to a small job documenting a nursery at a prison.  These minor events, however, serve as a basis for the play's one prominent conflict:  Who are they each now in the light of reality?  James, it seems, is more willing to accept the safety of love without the need for proving himself in the heat of war and misery.  “For the first time in my life I realize that I just want to be comfortable!” he declares.

The philosophy of time explored by Margulies is theoretically captivating. Time standing still not only accounts for the pausing of the realities of our protagonists, but also symbolically in the photos that Sarah takes.  This leads to the nagging question of one's roles in life and love.  Sarah debates with Manny over her participation in war, arguing in defense of herself for not helping those suffering in the war.  “I’m there to take pictures.  Without me their story is not told.  You can’t change fate”.  And the roles of James and Sarah within their personal relationship is turbulently questioned when they are viewed without the tragedy and without the conflict that is in abundance in their professional relationship.  They marry for the benefit of James being able to make important health related decisions, but who are they each under these normal circumstances?

The ideas explored in Time Stands Still are enticing and provocative for any intellectual, I admit. However the play does want for a bit of ruffling.  It’s a clean and polished work of philosophy but where is the rest of the action?  What more can happen to incite this intellect?  The thru line between ideas seems mildly underdeveloped.  

Anna Gunn & David Harbour in "Time Stands Still"

Director Daniel Sullivan provides a delicately refined naturalism that grounds Margulies’ masterful and harmonious dialogue.  What appears effortless is unmistakably the omniscient hand of awareness forging a simple and delicate glimpse into the realities of these characters.

John Lee Beatty’s set design adds the further dimension of a dauntingly realistic and operable set that gives the freedom to see the stark honesty of life.  Tall windows loom over the upstage to allow for both the light of reality and the shadows of fiction.  

The ensemble does a fine job of working together.  Ms. Silverstone stands out with her touching depiction of what on page could very easily appear to be the well-recognized portrait of an unintelligent, simple-minded beauty.  Her earnest warmth makes her hail to suburban bliss a very appealing argument.  Anna Gunn tackles the treacherous journey of Sarah with an acute and admirable understanding.

Margulies and Sullivan remind us that it is the reality of life that is often forgotten in the motions of living.  Time Stands Still harbors the beautiful conflict of sudden awareness.  

Time Stands Still opened Tuesday, February 11, 2009 and will run through Sunday, March 15, 2009 @:

The Geffen Playhouse
10886 Le Conte Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90024

Tuesday- Thursday @ 7:30pm, Friday @ 8pm,
Saturday at 4pm & 8:30pm, Sunday @ 2pm & 7pm

For reservations:
call: 310-208-5454


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