New York is so clearly a city where theater production is based on profit rather than devotion to art. I wanted to see a new play by a legendary writer, or a performance by a legendary actress I might never have the chance to see again: but instead, I chose my last show of my trip based on what I could afford. I thank the Playbill club for making a small dent in creating affordable nights out in New York; their tickets for Scottsboro Boys were $30 less than the going rate at TKTS, and their offer for $25 balcony seats for Time Stands Still made it doable. I knew jack about the play other than it was a newish (from January of this year) and that it starred Laura Linney, one of my very favorite American movie actresses – one whom I thought had the chops to do a play. So, fine, I was heading into broke (like “do I have enough money to go to the airport tomorrow”), so Time Stands Still it was.
The show suffers from being very flatly realistic, in a stiff way I remember all too well from director Daniel Sullivan’s time in Seattle. It’s not inventive, it’s not pushing you as an audience member, it’s just telling what seems to be a very thin story about two war reporters – one photographer (Laura Linney as Sarah Goodwin), one writer (Brian D’Arcy James as James Dodd) – who have maybe spent too much time on the front lines. The story itself seems to take a while to unspin: is it about Goodwin’s addiction to the high of seeing people struggle? Is it about her lack of feeling toward pain, her lack of (feminine) feeling (as highlighted by her encounters with her boss’ new girlfriend Mandy)? Does James Dodd really have anything to add to this other than being the one who brought her back to their flat in Brooklyn?
Mandy’s nauseating empty-headedness (a bit overdone by Christina Ricci) seems a set up for criticizing Goodwin in some way, but Mandy winds up making Goodwin look intelligent and sympathetic by comparison. As we head into the end of act one, the true story (really masked by an excess of Mandy) comes out: Dodd and Goodwin’s relationship is in trouble, not just because of the horrible accident Goodwin was is and Dodd’s sense of guilt, not just because of the stress caused by the careers they have, but for so much more. I don’t want to spoil it but in act two we headed into positively Strindbergian levels of couple fucked-uppedness that really got me down. While I was aggravated a lot by this play in the first act, Donald Margulies really got right to the core of what holds people together, what tears them apart, and just how the intimacy of intimacy lets you go right for the jugular. Damn and ow.
In some ways, Goodwin’s boss, Richard (Eric Bogosian) and his girlfriend seemed not so much about “causing situations” and “providing contrast” as about giving the play some filler while the much more real events between the main couple were happening. The play would have probably been able to get by without them just fine (though Bogosian was flawless in his role). Still, I’m impressed by the levels of realness Margulies achieved, and by his ability to avoid easy criticisms of Goodwin and her career choices. My seats in the very back row may have been fairly crap (listening to the toliet flush when the ushers hit the john was particularly irritating), but I do think this was, in the end, a good show.
(This review is for a performance that took place on Saturday October 9th, 2010, at 8 PM. The show continues through January 23rd, 2011.)