Laura Linney was a star, but not yet the star of her own Showtime series, "The Big C," when the Manhattan Theatre Club opened "Time Stands Still" last winter. But she already had a quiet, dazzling honesty as Sarah, a war photographer recovering back home in her Williamsburg loft after almost being killed in a roadside bombing in Iraq.
If her celebrity brings new audiences to Donald Margulies' reopened and relocated drama, they will find an even more commanding Linney under the battered skin of this flinty, complicated character. They will also find the same shamelessly watchable actors - Eric Bogosian and Brian d'Arcy James - supplemented by a deliciously unreadable Christina Ricci (replacing the equally good Alicia Silverstone) in an impressive Broadway debut.
Of course, the cast was never the problem with the drama, which is a lightweight play wrapped in the body armor of profundity. Margulies, whose "Dinner With Friends" won the 2000 Pulitzer Prize, is an accessible teller of modern stories about educated New York professionals.
Here he is also attempting to grapple with authentic and timely questions about the nature of happiness and the usefulness of journalism in a world of suffering. Despite director Daniel Sullivan's incisive direction, the result has the easy digestibility of decent TV or a minor indie film.
And Margulies is after bigger prey here. The problem is that we don't know how he feels about his characters or how he wants us to feel about them. Is Sarah heroic, or a ghoulish adrenaline junkie? Is her longtime boyfriend (d'Arcy James) being sensible or copping out to a conventional life, as he pushes for a family and a nonthreatening career?
Is their photo editor pal (Bogosian) embarrassed or delighted with himself for falling for Mandy (Ricci), a dishy young sunflower of optimism? And is Mandy the unlikely voice of wisdom or a moron? If she is meant to be both, which is possible, we need to know that, too.
Margulies writes exceptionally graceful expositions and identifiable characters. But he panders to his audience by having characters mock political theater. "I like musicals," Mandy says. "I don't know why people would pay all that money to be depressed." Are people laughing because they agree or because they feel superior to those who do?
WHAT "Time Stands Still"
WHERE Cort Theatre, 138 W. 48th St.
INFO $56.50-$121.50, 212-239-6200, timestandsstillonbroadway.com
BOTTOM LINE Fine cast, lightweight drama