Time Stands Still

Review by Willard Manus

The world premiere of TIME STANDS STILL at the Geffen Playhouse proved to be grievously disappointing, even annoying. Written by Donald Margulies and directed by his longtime sidekick, Daniel Sullivan, the play deals with James (David Harbour) and Sarah (Anna Gunn), photojournalists who have returned to their Brooklyn loft (lavishly designed by John Lee Beatty) after having been traumatized while covering the war in Iraq.

James had left Iraq first, fearing a mental collapse stemming from the horrors he encountered in Mosul, where the street-fighting between Marines and insurgents was particularly savage and bloody. The tougher of the two, Sarah refused to leave Iraq with him, choosing instead to keep taking her frontline pictures, no matter how unpretty and awful they were.

Six weeks later she was seriously injured by a roadside bomb which not only destroyed her vehicle but killed her "fixer" Tariq, an Iraqi translator/helper. When the play opens, Sarah is walking with a crutch, has a broken arm and a badly scarred face, yet she still misses Iraq, the intensity and completeness she felt only when peering through a camera lens, "making time stand still."

A challenge to this tunnel-vision view of life is mounted not only by James, who wants her to remain in Brooklyn and become his wife, but by Mandy (Alicia Silverstone), the sexy young

mistress of Sarah's photo editor, Richard (Robin Thomas in a somewhat thankless role). Mandy can't understand the point of taking pictures of war, destruction and death. What good does it do to show all those dark, depressing things, instead of focusing on the sunny side of life?

Unfortunately for the ethical argument raised here, Mandy is not only a philistine but a sappy one at that, given to girlish outbursts and tears which make it all too easy to dismiss her. That leaves Margulies with only the love-story aspect of his story to explore with any depth and complexity. He makes a valiant effort in that regard, but ultimately failed to lift TIME STANDS STILL above the level of a typically shallow Lifetime movie.

Compounding the play's flaws are some serious technical lapses on the part of the director and actors. Sullivan failed to take into account those sitting on the left and right wings of the Playhouse. All dialogue was aimed at center stage, with nary a turn of head to help the audience on the sidelines hear what was being said. The actors' weak projection made things even worse. Doesn't anybody in Actor's Equity take voice lessons any more? (Geffen Playhouse, 10886 LeConte Ave. 310-208-5454)