Michael Lamont
February 18, 2009 at 05:00 AM EST

The devastatingly beautiful Time Stands Still, Donald Margulies’ latest meditation on artists in psychological crisis (see: Sight Unseen, Collected Stories, Brooklyn Boy), is surely his most political. James (David Harbour) is a freelance writer and Sarah (Anna Gunn) a photojournalist who are just back from Iraq; she’s been badly injured by a roadside bomb. Yet don’t mistake this engrossing topical play, which runs through March 15 at L.A.’s Geffen Playhouse, for a wartime rant. Like Margulies’ best work, Time is essentially about the maddening, fascinating complexities of love and relationships. As he did in 2000’s Pulitzer-winning scenes-from-a-marriage drama Dinner With Friends (which also featured two globetrotting journalists), Margulies distills the action to four characters and two couples: James and Sarah have been together — covering wars and dating — for eight years; their photo-editor best friend Richard (Robin Thomas) just knocked up Mandy, an ”embryonic” (read: twentysomething) event planner (Alicia Silverstone).

Gunn and Harbour (the latter recently seen lusting after Kate Winslet in Revolutionary Road) make formidable companions and foes. Gunn is a revelation, capturing both Sarah’s steely strength and her surprising insecurity — a war on the other side of the world doesn’t scare her; the war at home, however, frightens her in ways she never knew. And Silverstone, who was so awkward in 2002’s Broadway version of The Graduate, has grown into a very fine stage actress. She’s rewarded with the plum part of the not-so-dumb-blond adviser to James and Sarah. ”You wrap yourselves in tragedy,” says Mandy, who just might be the smartest person in the room. (Never mind her hors d’oeuvres choices — bacon-wrapped scallops and mini-quiches for a Brooklyn wedding?). ”You can’t heal the world. I wish you’d heal each other.” Watching these crippled characters try is at once heartbreaking and hopeful. (Tickets: 310-208-5454 or geffenplayhouse.com) A

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