Having the effrontery to look on the bright side of life can
have a hazardous affect on your mental wellbeing, should you enter war
photographer Sarah Goodwin’s orbit in Time
Stands Still. She’s made a career out of documenting human atrocities, and
woe unto those who insist that her pictures are only part of the story. As
written by Donald Margulies, Sarah is a bitter pill, condescending to her
editor’s new, younger girlfriend, and so wrapped up in global suffering that
she barely has time to notice the pain of her long-time lover James (Brian
D’Arcy James). But as played by Laura Linney, Sarah is almost unbearably smug,
too, so sure of her moral superiority to everyone who’d rather watch the Saw films rather than confront the grim
reality of 21st-century life, that ordinary human foibles are reason enough for
her to unleash her sharp tongue.
Just home from overseas, where she languished in a coma for
a few weeks before awakening to a face full of shrapnel, Sarah wastes little
time in belittling James’ plan to write a non war-related book about horror
films (spoiler alert: they’re about sex) and their editor Richard (Eric
Bogosian), who is dating the carefree and kind Mandy (now played by Christina
Ricci, replacing Alicia Silverstone). Mandy is an event planner, a profession
that seems carefully chosen by Margulies to allow for maximum hilarity in
comparison to what James and Sarah do without calling undue attention to the
fact that Mandy is intended as comedic relief.
Luckily, no one’s told Ricci that Mandy’s naiveté is
cartoonish. Giving the character a steelier backbone than Silverstone did,
Ricci’s Mandy comes across as a determined young woman, someone who can praise
Sarah for her ability to work so proficiently (and prolifically) in the midst
of death and destruction, while also daring to question the role of a war
photographer who is documenting suffering rather than trying to prevent it.
Yes, the question is as old as Robert Capa, but it nevertheless hangs over
Margulies’ play, never satisfactorily answered by either the characters or the
Which is one of the best things about Time Stands Still: its utter refusal to explain everything. Some
critics have complained that Sarah is a cipher, that we should know what’s
turned her so prickly, but that’s absurd. Sarah is who she is, and some people
are just prickly without suffering a childhood trauma or even taking pictures
of war zones. Margulies has enough respect for his audience to let us interpret
his characters’ motives as we like. If only he had the same respect for the
people who feel so powerless in the face of monumental tragedy that they would
rather turn away from it.
Time Stands Still
Open run, Cort Theatre, 138 W. 48th St. (betw. 6th & 7th
Aves.), 212-239-6200; $57–$122.