By Dave Begel Contributing Writer Published Feb 26, 2017 at 9:16 AM

James and Sarah's paths collided amid the hurricane of yet another war and immediately led each into the other’s arms. A love at first bomb blast, if you will. Eight years later, after he has written and she has photographed one horror after another, they still haven’t managed to find an equilibrium that might actually allow them to live and love each other in a place smoothed by a calm sea.  

That’s the pretense of the absorbing and smart play, "Time Stands Still," by Donald Margulies running at In Tandem Theatre under the hands-off direction of Chris Flieller. With four bravura performances in four complicated roles, this is a modern day retelling reminiscent of "Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf," watching the two couples, their compromises for each other and the way their lives gradually, histrionically shred into nothing more than the dust of broken dreams, promises and faiths.

The story opens in the apartment of Sarah (Kay Allmand) and James (David Sapiro). He is the war correspondent who has just brought Sarah, the war photojournalist, home after a terrifying roadside bomb nearly killed her. She has a leg in a cast, scars across her face and, hidden at first, a crisis inside her heart.

He is protective; she resists his protection. He feels guilty for flying home after a breakdown, not being present when Sarah was injured. His guilt is anything but subtle. Meanwhile, she is fierce in her determination to return to the war. Her cameras were saved during the blast, an event more important to her than the scars that mar her face.

But there is a road ahead until normal becomes normal again. And thrown into this road are Richard (Richard Ganoung), a mentor to both Sarah and James, and Mandy (Jordan Watson), decades younger but Richard’s latest girlfriend.

Mandy, it turns out, is shallow but also relentlessly kindhearted. Richard knows it looks like he is in the midst of a mid-life crisis, but promises that this relationship is "for real." It’s true love, for both of them.

Margulies is a gifted playwright with a well-honed eye for the turns and twirls of any relationship. Here, he looks at the relationship well-traveled on a long and winding road.

For Sarah and James, it becomes a most turbulent path, jumping from passion in the bedroom to bitterness and patronizing in the living room. Their relationship is like the wars they have covered in their careers – first one force advances while the other retreats, then they switch and finally they meet in pitched battle.

For Richard and Mandy, life is a matter of need and gifts. He needs her, and she gives herself to him. She needs someone, and Richard delivers, all the while trying to justify his love to his friends and to protect Mandy from the inevitable faux pas of the young.

As Sarah says when Richard belittles the age differences, "There’s young, Richard and there’s ... embryonic. That girl’s a lightweight, Richard."

There is nothing lightweight about Sarah and James however, By the time the two of them have moved past the first moments of their return home, they begin to create the kind of gradual tensions that gave me a knot in my stomach. It’s almost painful to ride along on this trainwreck in waiting.

Flieller has assembled a cast of smart and experienced actors who prove that taking your time is the secret to developing characters who are fully rounded and favored by depth.

Sapiro and Allmand are striking as Sarah and James, and both continue a string of great performances on Milwaukee stages.

Allmand is gives us a character full of toughness and vulnerability all wrapped up in a woman making her way in a world of warriors. She is in full scale denial of her womanhood and resistant to any of the efforts to turn her from her chosen path of courage.

Sapiro is rapidly becoming a force on Milwaukee stages. This performance follows his stylish turn with Jim Pickering in "Life in the Theatre" and the just-closed "Luna Gale" at Renaissance. His performance here is the kind of thing that makes you want to love him because he is a victim in this relationship even though he may not be aware of it.

Ganoung is one of my all-time favorite actors in Wisconsin. He is a founding member of Madison’s excellent Forward Theater Company, and he has the kind of veteran presence that sets a bar for every actor in a cast with him. He has a vast array of emotions with his character, all of them grabbing onto the genuine.

Watson is a newcomer to Milwaukee, and she does some very surprising work with a character who could easily be a single dimension. Watson’s Mandy is a child among all these adults, but she also has a streak of honesty that is a rarity in this work.

It’s a combination that works to create a vision of the challenges and solutions to living together so long that there are only two ways forward, one toward peace and the other toward humiliation.

"Time Stands Still" runs through March 19 and information on tickets and showtimes can be found here.

Dave Begel Contributing Writer

With a history in Milwaukee stretching back decades, Dave tries to bring a unique perspective to his writing, whether it's sports, politics, theater or any other issue.

He's seen Milwaukee grow, suffer pangs of growth, strive for success and has been involved in many efforts to both shape and re-shape the city. He's a happy man, now that he's quit playing golf, and enjoys music, his children and grandchildren and the myriad of sports in this state. He loves great food and hates bullies and people who think they are smarter than everyone else.

This whole Internet thing continues to baffle him, but he's willing to play the game as long as keeps lending him a helping hand. He is constantly amazed that just a few dedicated people can provide so much news and information to a hungry public.

Despite some opinions to the contrary, Dave likes most stuff. But he is a skeptic who constantly wonders about the world around him. So many questions, so few answers.