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Playwright covers post-war trauma

Playwright Donald Margulies seems to see actress Laura Linney in journalistic terms. Her first real success came when she played an aggressive German interviewer in his first long-running play, "Sight Unseen."

Now she's back as Sarah Goodwin, the lynchpin of Margulies' extraordinary, graphic "Time Stands Still," in an impeccable Manhattan Theatre Club production directed by Daniel Sullivan.

The prolific, New Haven-based playwright, who won a Pulitzer Prize for "Dinner With Friends,"confronts our involvement in the Middle East as few writers have thus far elected to do.

Sarah is a respected photojournalist severely damaged by a roadside bomb in Iraq. After being treated at some length in a German hospital, she has returned home to a loft in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, which she shares with James Dodd, a seemingly less seriously committed journalist who has been her lover for more than eight years.

She survived Iraq, but just barely, emerging with an injured arm, a damaged leg, a scarred face and a permanently altered mental viewpoint.

Director Sullivan's superb four-actor cast is one of the finest Broadway ensembles within memory, with Brian d'Arcy James as the overwhelmed Dodd and Eric Bogosian and Alicia Silverstone as the second pair, Richard Erlich, Sarah's loyal photo editor, and Mandy Bloom, Richard's seemingly unsuitable new girlfriend, barely out of her teens, who works as an event planner.

The affable, endlessly accomodating Dodd has done time in Iraq, too, where he suffered a nervous breakdown and was sent back to the United States. Margulies, probably wisely, opts to leave Dodd's story mainly untold.

His primary attentions are elsewhere. Beyond argument, Margulies' beautifully crafted, deeply moving play belongs to Linney's character, resonating with the changes she undergoes upon her return from the war zone.

"Time Stands Still" clocks in at just under two hours, intermission included, and, as such, somehow seems a little underwritten. You may well leave the theater wanting more, particularly more of James, Richard and even Mandy.

You may also find yourself thinking of Haskell Wexler's wonderful, neglected 1969 film, "Medium Cool," which deals with some of the same issues as those Margulies is confronting in "Time Stands Still." In the film, a television camerman remains detached although surrounded by events which demand his involvement.

What Wexler's film and Margulies' play share is concern for the unanswerable question regarding the nature of the involvement journalists risk in identifying with the events they cover. It is an issue with which most journalists deal on a more or less regular basis.

Margulies wisely refrains from hammering his points into the ground. Instead, he lays out his ideas as part of his characters' thought processes and gives his audience the time and space to deal with them almost as the people about whom he's writing must do.

For this and myriad other reasons, "Time Stands Still" is satisfying in subtle and rewarding ways that very few contemporary plays even approach.

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