For a photojournalist, the persistent goal at work is to capture reality. Not to shape it, change it, or improve it, even when it means ignoring the danger of harmful situations for the sake of getting that iconic image. This occupational hazard paints the backdrop of Time Stands Still, now on Broadway at the Cort Theatre. Centering on an accomplished and doggedly ambitious war photographer, playwright Donald Margulies offers a new and compelling lens through which to view the images of the Iraq war. He portrays Sarah Goodwin, the unflinching journalist who understands that to distill the complexities of war into pictures is to willingly disengage from its brutality and pain, to focus on the image, and continue shooting. Laura Linney powerfully fills the role of Sarah and imbues her with iron-willed determination. Her sharp tongue and rough edge are not the result of her experience but, one suspects, inextricably linked to who she is. The play begins with her return home to Brooklyn following two weeks in a coma, the result of a roadside bomb that exploded while she was on assignment. Her boyfriend Jamie (the excellent Brian d’Arcy James), a writer who also covers war torn countries, is an unlikely rehabilitator. Though supportive and loving, he bears psychological bruises from his own time abroad and approaches Sarah with the same protectiveness he likely needs himself. It becomes evident that while Sarah’s bones are broken, her resolve is still intact, yearning to get back overseas and behind the camera.
The play’s action occurs entirely in their Williamsburg apartment, but their stories transport us to the Middle East and back. To the secrets kept and finally revealed. To the uncomfortable readjustment to living in comfort after months of living amidst poverty and violence. And to the delicate relationship of Sarah and Jamie, both weathered and grasping to find points of entry back to one another.
Margulies’ set up in Time Stands Still is reminiscent of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. Set in one couple’s living room, the play explores their complications, tensions, and secrets which are brought to the surface by the presence of a second, more frivolous couple. Close friend Richard (Eric Bogosian) is Jamie and Sarah’s editor who visits with his new and much younger girlfriend Mandy (Christina Ricci). Richard’s sophistication is an odd match for Mandy’s naiveté, and her all too frequent conversational gaffes produce knee-jerk winces from her boyfriend. But the two are surprisingly solid as a couple, and if they appear simplistic, it serves as a vehicle for comparison to Sarah and Jamie’s complexity.
Daniel Sullivan’s production achieves a painful poignancy in its realism and honesty. While some moments accidentally slip into melodrama, the overall work is powerful and timely, due in large part to four extraordinary actors. The play is testament to the vast discrepancy that exists between visualizing war from a distance and experiencing it on the ground. For those who capture it on film, the heartrending reality is to do both at the same time.