Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

Still Waiting

February 28, 2009

Anna Gunn and David Harbour
Photo: Christine Cotter/LAT 2009

Donald Margulies’ latest drama Time Stands Still, now on stage at the Geffen Playhouse in Westwood, may be the perfect play for these recessionary times. At least in the sense that, it’s the kind of thing you might find on a cable television station without having to pay for any premium services. It’s very familiar territory, a relationship story about a couple - James, a journalist, and Sarah a photographer - who have just returned after a traumatic tour in Iraq, and are now dealing with the physical and personal ramifications. These struggles are contrasted against the personal developments between their older editor and his new, younger, and much less politically inclined love interest. This is territory that Margulies has proven himself a master of in previous outings like Sight Unseen. You can pretty much see everything coming in Time Stands Still– the ethics of photojournalism, the insightful deconstruction of liberal guilt, and all of the how-can-we-go-on melodrama. Unfortunately, it's not nearly as engrossing or moving as any of the war zone photographs implied in the title.

It’s mildly funny, and professionally done, however. Especially when Mandy, the editor’s new paramour, turns her apparent ditziness into biting critiques of everyone’s endless whining. This part is typically played by Alicia Silverstone who was absent during the performance I attended, but I certainly didn’t notice, given the incredible quality of the one given by Monica McCarthy, her understudy. All of the actors benefited from Daniel Sullivan's competent and focused direction in often stiff scenarios.

Ironically, perhaps the thing that struck me most about the play is the setting – an apartment in Williamsburg, Brooklyn that the characters occupied “before it was cool.” Needless to say these characters are exactly the people Danny Hoch holds up to criticism in his recent Taking Over seen here in L.A. last month. Sarah is confronted with the moral ambiguity inherent in her work when an encounter photographing female prison inmates during her recovery recalls prior confrontations by Iraqi bombing victims. With all of Margulies exploration of the problematic nature of his characters' interest in conflicts that are not their own, he feels the need to send Sarah to a nearby prison to discover the war at home when in reality it's right outside her front door. In fairness, though, this is a play not about gentrification, but about love. Unfortunately, that maybe its primary problem.


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