There's nothing that brings a Broadway cast back for bear better than those six-month coffee breaks. Three-fourths of the Manhattan Theatre Club spring cast of Time Stands Still cast have not been marking time in the interim — they have been marinating — and they collectively served up one piping hot show Oct. 7 at its new commercial Main Stem location, the Cort.
Christina Ricci is the odd woman in — the new-girl-in-town seasoning — the "lightweight" among the welterweight war journalists on display in Donald Margulies' gripping drama: Laura Linney, a frontline photographer put out of commission by a roadside bomb; Brian d'Arcy James, her lover of nine years and the words to her pictures; and Eric Bogosian, their publisher who enjoys jumping a generation back for girlfriends (Ricci, for the present).
Alicia Silverstone, with her "Clueless" history, originated the role of this airhead who turned into Bethlehem Steel at the play's world premiere at the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles last year, then repeated that performance on Broadway last spring, but a movie commitment — Amy Heckerling's "Vamps" — prevented her from joining her co-stars for this very early "revival."
Ricci said she didn't have to think twice when director Dan Sullivan pitched her the part. "I was so excited to get to work with such amazing and talented people. Also, this is the kind of part that's very different from stuff that I've done before, and I thought that it would be great to get a chance to play someone like this." Of course, the stage is totally new turf for her, although you'd not suspect it from the easy way she glided through her Broadway debut. "At first, it took a little adjusting to. I had a lot of help from my fellow cast members. I listened. I took in everything they told me to do, all the advice, and I tried to learn and to grow as fast as possible."
[flipbook] Maybe it's the lack of blondeness, but Ricci's version of the character seems to be made of sterner stuff and her slow-to-show spine comes less as a shock. "I always took the approach that she was just a girl from a different environment, raised in sort of a sheltered way," Ricci said. "She was really interested in everything they did and interested in the arts, but just didn't have the kind of education they had. Also, she's of a different generation. She's not dumb. She's just trying way too hard, and she's putting her foot in her mouth. And she's coming from such a different world, a world where you do comfort someone by saying, 'Listen, we can have plastic surgery to take care of that. Relax. It's fine.' For her, that's a totally normal thing to say."
Another new dimension that surfaces in this current resurrection is that Time Stands Still seems to have become the love story that Margulies intended and less about the densely packed baggage that the two leads lug around — the questions and politics and emotional toll that goes with documenting contemporary war zones.
Linney and James tangle intensely and compassionately in their interplay, edging closer to the heart than they did before. Stakes seem to have been raised.
As Linney views the new emotionalism, "It's just wonderful to be intimate with a piece of work and then put it to bed for a while and let it hibernate and then you get to wake it back up and discover even more things about it that you didn't know."
One thing that hasn't changed is the war scars. "They're transferred tattoos, so they take a while to get on and a little longer to get off." Linney, it has to be said, wears them elegantly.
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Professionally speaking, Linney is going through a bad medical patch these days. While she's recovering from her war wounds on the stage of the Cort, she is coping with Stage IV cancer every week on Showtime in "The Big C." Prognosis for the latter: The series has just been picked up for another season. "I love jumping from medium to medium," the actress admitted. "I learn a lot, and I have a good time."
As for James and his part, "It was fantastic coming back. There's so much to explore with this guy and with this play. I feel really lucky to have had a second time at bat. My job is to be truthful to the function of my character. I feel really grateful to be up there, matching wits and going at it emotionally with the rest of the cast."
The course of true love here is complicated by Linney placing her professional life ahead of her personal life. Indeed, ultimately, James sees their love story the same as "Days of Wine and Roses," with work the drug of choice instead of drink.
His character thinks like that because he's writing a book underlining the hidden politics in horror films and, at one point, is seen watching an "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" video with Kevin McCarthy, who died last month at age 96. Although Anita Gates had the great good sense to put Death of a Salesman ahead of "Body Snatchers" in her New York Times obit, it was still in the first sentence. "Listen," reasoned James reasonably, "as an actor, if you have anything that people remember you by at all, I think you're ahead of the game."
The clip scene now comes across as a tribute to McCarthy and extends his Broadway career beyond the grave. "I think about that every time that scene comes up," James said. "I got to meet him in Los Angeles. My friend, Pat Harrington, invited me to a lunch where he and all these incredible actors got together." Next up for him is a workshop of Hands on a Hard Body, based on the 1997 documentary about a pickup-truck competition in Longview, TX. " Neil Pepe's directing it. He's a fantastic director. That was a huge reason for wanting to do it. The composer is the lead singer of Phish, Trey Anastasio, and Amanda Green is doing the lyrics. Doug Wright is doing the book."
|photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN|
Bogosian is also grateful to have another crack at his character. "It felt like I knew him from the get-go," he admitted. "I have a whole bunch of characters that I feel I really know, but I do think every actor has those sort of perfect pitches for their particular body/mind/soul, and this guy is one of those perfect pitches for me. He fits me really well. Donald knows him really well, and I know him really well.
"This is a great play to work on. Every night I'm able to find new things and new colors. Plus, I got three other actors on stage who only do truth out there on the stage so you never know what's going to happen next, and that makes it a lot of fun."
Okay, Silverstone or Ricci? "It's a little different, but they're both ingénues who know how to be very funny and be very strong, which is required for this role. Alicia, of course, created the role when it was done first in Los Angeles, and Donald was writing for her. I think it's very difficult for another actor to come in and succeed as brilliant as Christina has. She came in with limited rehearsal time and has amazed us all. She's just doing a great job. I mean, I'm just thrilled to have a sexy girl on stage interested in me so that's all I really care about. It's very selfish on my part. I'm just hoping this goes on forever and they give me new ingénues to play with on stage."
Lynne Meadow, Manhattan Theatre Club's artistic director, had a very simple explanation for transferring Time Stands Still from a non-profit run to a commercial run: "More people wanted to see it, and we had to stop performances at the Friedman because Laura Linney had to do her series and we needed the theatre for Linda Lavin to do Collected Stories."
David Harbour, who originated the James role in L.A. and will next be seen on Broadway as Bassanio in The Merchant of Venice, showed up to check out Margulies' latest revision. "When I saw it at the Friedman, they had reworked some stuff and changed some stuff around," he recalled. "I remember sitting in the audience, going like, 'Wait a minute. Where's that scene?' But I've gotten over that. It's changed a lot. I know we developed it a lot in L.A., and then, when they got to New York first, I know they developed it more."
Also in attendance were Lou Reed; comedian Robert Klein, fresh from Monday's Marvin Hamlisch salute at Symphony Space where he regaled the gathering with standup and, with Lucie Arnaz, recreated scenes from their They're Playing Our Song; Ivana Trump; character actresses Jessica Hecht and Phyllis Somerville; playwright David Grimm with Nancy Anderson; Lorraine Bracco, who'll winter in L.A. doing a new series, "Rizzoli & Isles"; Elvy Yost from the all-girl folk band, The Dahls; Lily Rabe, Broadway-bound as Portia in The Merchant of Venice; "Today" weatherman Al Roker and TV journalist-wife Deborah Roberts; New York Times scribe Tom Friedman and Bogosian bud Karren Karagulian from 2008's "Prince of Broadway" flick.