Start with a beautifully crafted script by Donald Margulies, skillfully directed by Daniel Sullivan, add to that a most talented ensemble framed by an excellent set designed by John Lee Beatty and lighting by Peter Kaczorowski, and you get the Geffen Playhouse’s world premiere production of Time Stands Still, a gripping drama that explores personal goals and conflicts through the metaphor of war-torn Iraq, making for a most riveting theatrical experience.
The story revolves around Sarah (Anna Gunn) and James (David Harbour), photojournalists who travel to the some of the most war-ravaged, volatile regions of the world to capture on camera the agony and tragedy of war. Sarah, exquisitely played by Gunn, was severely injured in a roadside bombing and is back home to recover. James, who fled Iraq after a traumatic experience, is trying to create a somewhat normal life for them in their Williamsburg, Brooklyn loft which includes wanting to marry Sarah after living together for years.
As the action unfolds, enter Richard (Robin Thomas) who is the couple’s supportive friend and photo editor and his new “mid-life crisis girlfriend” Mandy, delightfully played Alicia Silverstone, a formidable stage presence who creates sparks whenever she performs. Mandy, who at first blush appears to be an empty headed bimbo, gushes and is quite direct which begins to challenge Sarah’s position. However, we are in for a few surprises as Silverstone’s character undergoes a significant transformation and becomes the voice of reason.
Mandy’s innocence and emotional point of view is in sharp contrast to Sarah’s who has cut off her emotions in order to do her work. When asked by Mandy why she didn’t do something to help some of the victims she was photographing, Sarah defends herself saying “It’s not my job to help; it’s my job to document the atrocities.” Our young Mandy, very much a touchy,
feely character, is the voice of reality and wears her emotions on her sleeve. Richard, is unapologetic for his young girlfriend who he can easily control, for the moment at least, and imbues his character with the right amount of patience and understanding.
James, whose drinking begins increasing, is at a crossroads and definitely does not want to continue as a photojournalist opting instead to try to live a life of some normalcy. He is guilt ridden at having left Sarah in Iraq under the care of an Iraqi translator or “fixer,” who was killed in the blast, and with whom Sarah was having an affair. As Sarah struggles with her extreme physical pain and “domestic bliss,” James forgives her and is supportive, loving, and solicitous which Sarah begins to resent. The conflict grows as Sarah is drawn to return to her dangerous profession.The play deftly illuminates the conflicts in a relationship when one of the partners is cut off from feelings in order to function as well as the challenges facing women who opt for career over domesticity. Each member of the cast gives a deeply layered performance and through Silverstone’s Mandy, we see a young woman mature into her own person and develop her own voice – literally and figuratively.