Friday, January 29, 2010

Time Stands Still

GRADE: B+



(photo by Joan Marcus)

By Donald Margulies. Directed by Daniel Sullivan. Manhattan Theatre Club at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre. Through Mar. 14.

Donald Margulies' new four-hander earns its B+, with reviews that are mostly solidly admiring and warm, if not effusive. Telling the story of an injured war photographer, played by the pretty-much-universally acclaimed Laura Linney, and her rocky longtime near-marriage with a sensitive war correspondent, played by Brain d'Arcy James (also praised to the skies for his first post-Shrek performance), the show gets its share of kudos for complexity, thoughtfulness, and subtlety, though some critics credit the actors (who include the unlikely couple of Eric Bogosian and Alicia Silverstone) and director Daniel Sullivan for its success more than Margulies. This point of view--that the actors are better than the material--gets its strongest expression in Elisabeth Vincentelli's withering diss.


The New York Times A
(Charles Isherwood) Mr. Margulies’s finest play since the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Dinner With Friends.” Like that keenly observed drama about the growing pains of adulthood, the new play explores the relationship between two couples at a crucial juncture in their lives, when the desire to move forward clashes with the instinct to stay comfortably — or even uncomfortably — in place...Mr. Margulies is gifted at creating complex characters through wholly natural interaction, allowing the emotional layers, the long histories, the hidden kernels of conflict to emerge organically...Although “Time Stands Still” is deceptively modest, even laid back in its structure and sensibility, consisting of a handful of conversations among just four characters, the range of feeling it explores is wide and deep.

New York A
(Stephanie Zacharek) There’s a mournful tug beneath the surface of Time Stands Still, but the material, directed here by Daniel Sullivan, is also colloquial, lively, and inquisitive without being preachy.

Associated Press A
(Michael Kuchwara) The work is smart, stylish, timely and layered with an intriguing seriousness that inspires discussion after the curtain comes down...It is Linney who galvanizes the production, expertly riding the rhythms of Margulies' insightful writing. There is an unsparing directness to her performance — not to mention a superb sense of timing — that makes this photographer one of the most compelling characters to grace a Broadway stage this season.

Bloomberg News A
(John Simon) Compellingly demonstrates what a master playwright can do with great economy and efficiency, and with four fine actors who conjure up a commanding cross section of our conflicted, compromising or intransigent world...A rare play that encompasses universal issues and personal problems with equal compassionate insight...No actress conveys better than Linney the intellectual and professional woman riven by antithetical needs, wittily pursuing unencumbered freedom while also craving sexual and emotional fulfillment. D’Arcy James excels as a similarly workaholic, thinking and feeling man, discovering from the example of friends his perhaps even greater need for settling down into family life...For orchestrating such dissonances and harmonies, admire Sullivan’s direction.

Time Out NY A
(Adam Feldman) The central figure of Donald Margulies’s prickly, unsettling new drama, Time Stands Still, [Sarah] is played with expert strength and impatience by Laura Linney...Margulies is onto something interesting here: extreme violence as a form of escapism...Once again, the masterful director Daniel Sullivan has taken a solid play—taut and well-constructed, with hardly a single detail extraneous—and given us the smartest version of it possible. All four characters (including Mandy, who could easily have slid into dismissive caricature) are treated with respect and acted with skill. Manhattan Theatre Club’s naturalistic production doesn’t aim to blow you away. But it may well leave you wounded.

The Hollywood Reporter A-
(Frank Scheck) Though this latest work occasionally suffers from a surfeit of themes and a lack of focus, it's a nonetheless absorbing, ultimately very moving piece that is receiving a beautifully acted Broadway production...The playwright's gifts for sharp, witty dialogue and incisive characterizations are well on display, helping to smooth over the play's occasionally bumpy structure...Under the expert direction of Daniel Sullivan, the four performers shine.

Theatermania B+
(Dan Balcazo) Layered and thought-provoking...Linney delivers a powerful performance, demonstrating the grit and stubbornness that makes Sarah admirable but not always likable...D'Arcy James is completely convincing as a principled man with a fervent belief in the good that his work does, who is also tired and wanting a more comfortable life than he's had so far...The play, tightly directed by Daniel Sullivan, is full of interesting ideas, but Margulies wisely avoids making his work solely about issues.

USA Today B+
(Elysa Gardner) Donald Margulies tends to write smartly crafted, accessible plays that tell us nothing we don't already know. Luckily, these works attract actors who can transcend their clich├ęs and mine their intelligence and good-natured humor...The characters and dilemmas are variations on themes we've encountered before—if not in life, then in films and TV dramas...Linney['s]...unmannered lucidity and utter lack of vanity make Sarah more convincing and sympathetic. Likewise, Brian d'Arcy James' natural, vital performance ensures that his role isn't reduced to a sensitive modern male in distress. A winning Eric Bogosian also turns up, ideally cast as Richard, Sarah's wry editor and former lover, now keeping company with the much younger and less cultured Mandy. Though the latter character seems to exist principally as a foil for Sarah, Alicia Silverstone gives her a warmth and gentle substance.

Variety B+
(David Rooney) A thoughtful, absorbing work, its strengths maximized in the crystalline naturalism of Daniel Sullivan's production and the incisive interpretations of four astute actors...Tends to tack on ethical debate points that reveal as much of the playwright's voice as those of his characters. This makes the drama somewhat amorphous and less satisfying than it could be. But there's a ring of truth to the emotional experience being thrashed out onstage that keeps it compelling...Unapologetic Mandy has an integrity that grows as the play and Silverstone's enormously likable performance evolve, which puts the others to shame...As strong as the ensemble work is, it's Sarah's play, and the meticulous Linney reinforces that ownership without ever sacrificing her give-and-take with the other actors.

Backstage B
(Erik Haagensen) Laura Linney proves yet again she's one of our finest actors. Even when others are speaking, we are drawn back to Linney, watching her reveal more and more simply by listening and observing. I can think of no one today who achieves quite the same empathetic translucency, and you can imagine Margulies keeping it in mind when creating her character...But though the play gives Linney resonant opportunity, Margulies' largely well-observed, intelligent four-hander ultimately can't transcend its predictability. While the journey holds our interest, the destination is disappointing...Margulies seems to want this to be a tough consideration of our complacency in the face of documented horrors, but he doesn't gain serious traction...Daniel Sullivan smartly directs as much between as on the lines, but he can't keep the proceedings from feeling slightly static.

Talkin' Broadway B
(Matthew Murray) Though it draws on the hallmarks of the readjustment genre, Time Stands Still has considerably more on its mind and no shortage of interesting ways to broach the topics...When Richard takes center stage, which he does only rarely, the play screeches to a stop. This isn't Bogosian's fault - he brings a mature sense of responsibility and a deadpan humor to his role, but it's not enough to make Richard feel like much more than a functionary.

NY1 B
(Roma Torre) An impressive work that serves as a dynamite showcase for some stellar acting...It's a taut two hours expertly directed by Daniel Sullivan with Laura Linney delivering one of her finest portraits as the seen-it-all Sarah. Margulies is a master at probing the nuances of relationships and he is beautifully served by the entire company...For all its virtues, the play doesn't wholly succeed. It's a situation drama with a narrow premise that tends to contrive its conflicts and the characters don't always seem true to nature.

New York Post D+
(Elisabeth Vincentelli) Had she been written better, Sarah would have been an interesting challenge for the actress -- and she could have handled it -- but author Donald Margulies ("Sight Unseen," "Dinner With Friends") only looks at murky waters, afraid to dive in...Sarah and James argue -- about the ethics of bearing witness to war, about an affair Sarah had in Iraq, about the sacrifices required by coupledom -- as every scene predictably flares up into contention...Under Daniel Sullivan's direction, the cast of this Manhattan Theatre Club production rises above the material it's been handed. Richard is a sketch of a nice guy, but Bogosian fills it with substantial decency. Silverstone imbues Mandy -- a part written with infuriating condescension -- with a kindness and generosity that make Sarah and James look like rude jerks.

The New York Times A 13; New York A 13; Associated Press A 13; Bloomberg News A 13; Time Out NY A 13; The Hollywood Reporter A- 12; Theatermania B+ 11; USA Today B+ 11; Variety B+ 11; Backstage B 10; Talkin' Broadway B 10; NY1 B 10; New York Post D+ 5; TOTAL: 145/13=11.15 (B+)

1 comment:

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