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Theater Review: “Time Stands Still”

By Kristin Aoun

Feb. 22, 2009 10:49 p.m.

The Geffen Playhouse’s world premiere of “Time Stands Still” engages viewers so entirely that they experience what the title suggests: being captured in the moment.

“Time Stands Still” was written by Pulitzer Prize winner Donald Margulies, who also wrote “Dinner with Friends” and “Collected Stories,” both of which have appeared at the Geffen Playhouse in the past.

It is directed by Tony Award winner Daniel Sullivan, who directed “The Homecoming” on Broadway last season and previously collaborated with Margulies on “Dinner with Friends” at the Geffen Playhouse in 2000.

The show is a poignant drama about a couple, photojournalist Sarah and reporter James, who return to New York after an extended trip to the war-ridden Middle East.

Sarah, performed with heartbreaking realism by Anna Gunn (HBO’s “Deadwood,” AMC’s “Breaking Bad”), is an emotionally distraught but headstrong woman who returns injured after being hit by a bomb. Physically and emotionally healing as she deals with the death of the man with whom she had an affair and the resurrection of her relationship with James, her longtime boyfriend, she realizes that as a photojournalist, she has made a career out of the suffering of strangers.

Meanwhile, James, played adeptly by David Harbour (“Quantum of Solace,” “Revolutionary Road,” “State of Play”) tries to deal with his girlfriend’s affair and near-death experience while deciding that he cannot continue to live a life full of danger and instability.

The couple’s tragedy is juxtaposed with Sarah’s former mentor and current editor, Richard, played by Robin Thomas (“Damages,” “Murphy Brown”), who becomes engaged to his ditzy but attractive girlfriend, Mandy. After Sarah first meets Mandy, she sums up the character by telling Richard, “Congratulations, you always wanted a little girl.”

Alicia Silverstone (“Clueless”) plays Mandy, showing the character’s growth in a truly magnificent way.

Silverstone develops Mandy throughout the play from stereotypical dumb blonde to believable young woman and mother. She speaks some of the truest lines of the play, reflecting on the wartime conflict people have between wanting to be informed, getting that information, and yet desiring to remain blissfully unaware of the tragedy.

The cast works well together, with all of its members filling their characters’ roles to explore the major themes of the play.

At one point in the play, Mandy asks Sarah about what she wants people to think when they look at her photographs of war. Sarah replies that she wants people to pause, look at the photographs and think about them.

If this was Margulies’ goal in writing “Time Stands Still,” he certainly achieved it. For a brief period, time does stand still for the audience as they pause to look and think about the play.

“Time Stands Still” runs at the Geffen Playhouse through March 15. Tickets are $49 to $70, but student rush tickets are available one hour prior to curtain for $15.

E-mail Aoun at [email protected]

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