Friday, October 22, 2010

Time Stands Still

Photo: Joan Marcus

Some shows reveal their flaws on repeated viewings. Donald Margulies's Time Stands Still reveals its strengths. [spoilers follow] Some things that struck me on viewing #3:
  • Each of the main characters discusses a turning point in his or her time covering the war in Iraq. James (Brian d'Arcy James) tells of seeing people being blown up and of getting their blood (and brains) in his eyes. Sarah tells of being chastised by an injured woman and getting the woman's blood on the lens of her camera. It's a perfect parallel: Sarah's camera is her eyes, and both characters have the war literally thrown in their faces.
  • In a realistic turn of events, Sarah ends up arguing both sides of the ethics of photographing people--rather than helping them--in the midst of calamities. She energetically lectures the young Mandy that taking their pictures does help people, but later, with James, she says that maybe there is something cold, and wrong, about keeping that distance. Her ambivalence retroactively explains her vigor in defending herself--she is not quite sure she is right. Nevertheless, she goes back to Iraq, because that is who she is.
  • Time Stands Still is about a person who is unable to settle into "normal" life because of her drive to do important work. That the person is female is an interesting facet of the story, but not the point. Sarah is not held to a different standard as a woman.
  • The ostensibly air-headed Mandy, in many ways a comic figure, is allowed a savvy self-awareness that makes her a believable and complex.
  • Time Stands Still dares to present a largely unlikeable protagonist, and the brilliant Laura Linney dares to play her unapologetically. This honesty is refreshing, and sometimes heart-breaking.
I have seen Time Stands Still labeled an overrated play; however, I suspect that it is underrated.

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