In my house, we can recite lines from Clueless at whim, so to see Alicia Silverstone all grown up among the formidable theater talents in Donald Margulies' new play, Time Stands Still, is an Occasion.
This fine Manhattan Theatre Club production, superbly directed by Daniel Sullivan at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre opens with Sarah Goodwin (the excellent Laura Linney) in a full leg cast with facial wounds, a war photographer who has been badly injured by a roadside bomb in Iraq, entering the Williamsburg loft she shares with James Dodd (the equally excellent Brian D'Arcy James), a war journalist. Particularly attentive to her, and admittedly feeling guilty because he left Iraq before the incident, he has retrieved her from hospital in Germany.
With silver tipped hair, Richard Ehrlich (an excellent Eric Bogosian), Sarah's former lover and editor, arrives with his new girlfriend Mandy Bloom (Silverstone, who also originated the role in the LA production), toting cheery silver "Get Well" and "Welcome Home" balloons. A glowing signal of the generation gap, along with some telling dialogue referring to Brazil, Terry Gilliam's classic movie, not the country, the gesture suggests that Mandy's sense of history may stop at Madonna, as her taste conjures the iconic Clueless teen Cher Horowitz that made Silverstone so famous. My matinee date, my daughter, whispered: Silverstone is playing true to type. Confronted, accused of robbing the cradle, Richard, a "survivor" of a relationship with an intellectual closer in age, says he is happier than he has ever been, now with this uncomplicated party planner.
Margulies' nuanced dialogue is of the historic moment, raising questions about the moral imperatives of making art from others' devastation, as when Sarah recounts an instance when a grieving mother, a victim of a terror attack, insists the photographer put away her camera and get help. Pondering the violation, she concludes: I was there to record life, not to change it. When she says, "All I see is the picture," you are aware of her human limitations, all the while that she is held up as an artist, a noble risk-taker.
The main drama may turn on Sarah and James' future together now that injuries have grounded them, or professional rivalry for the couple as Sarah is clearly the star, but for my daughter, the play concerned the contrasting women, the conflict of devoted ambition vs. soft domesticity. That Silverstone could make her breezy, compassionate Mandy understandable and appealing, a worthy voice in this quartet, speaks to the excellence of her performance.