Sarah and James have returned from a war zone. But the battles raging within the two journalists drive "Time Stands Still," a drama by Pulitzer prize-winning playwright Donald Margulies.
Cornerstone Theatre Company has mounted the first Central Florida production of the play. Directed by Nicholas Murphy, Cornerstone has produced a carefully polished work of theater with a wonderfully professional sheen.
On opening night, the lead performances were actually a bit too careful.
As writer James, Owen Robertson is full of twitchy anger, but even at his loudest it never quite feels like he has completely let himself go. Likewise, Angel Allen internalizes photographer Sarah's feelings to the point it becomes hard to sense the necessary fire in her belly that spurs her to danger-filled places.
But Robertson and Allen — a last-minute replacement in the leading role — paint an effective portrait of two wounded souls who on the surface have a lot in common. That's because both James and Sarah have spent their lives in the world's danger zones: Sudan, Iraq. Wherever there's trouble, there they are.
On their last trip to the Middle East, though, things went very wrong. James witnessed a particularly brutal attack and, traumatized, returned to the States. Thus, he wasn't around when Sarah was badly injured by a bomb. Their eight-year relationship is put to the test as she recuperates, he ponders a change in their lifestyle and a secret indiscretion comes to light.
Frank Jakes is affably understated as a friend of the couple, and Anna McClintock shows good comic sense as his much younger girlfriend. At first, a giggly, naïve creature, by the story's end she's dispensing wisdom — such as trying to see the positive moments in life along with the negative ones. "Otherwise," she asks with beautiful simplicity, "what's the point?"
The play's opening would feel brisker if there was a stronger sense of tension between the couple, and the ending would seem more natural if the characters exhibited more awkwardness. But the story remains intriguing for anyone interested in what pushes couples together — and pulls them apart.
Playwright Margulies, who turned a sharp eye on the creative process in "Collected Stories," here goes off on tangents about the nature of journalism during wartime and how print media has to balance important stories against those that attract advertisers and readers: Watch James rage when he realizes his article on the plight of African refugees has been sidelined by a magazine's frothy celebrity edition. "The Hollywood Issue!" he wails.
Another funny sideline, delivered with flair by Robertson, explains why liberals will go to bad plays if they are socially relevant. Brave stuff for a playwright.
Cornerstone, which mounted its first production about a year and a half ago, is a relative newbie to the theater scene. But the care taken with every aspect of this show — from the playbills to the costumes to the music between acts — puts it on equal footing with our more-established community theaters. Of special note: The elaborate set, designed by Murphy, is a treat in itself. Multilevel, with hardwood floors, a full kitchen (yes, including refrigerator) and a bedroom that projects right out into the audience, it boasts clever detail work throughout. The Shakes' intimate Santos-Dantin Studio Theater has never looked so good.
'Time Stands Still'
• What: A Cornerstone Theatre Company production of a Donald Margulies play
• Length: 2:05, including intermission
• Where: Lowndes Shakespeare Center, 812 E. Rollins St., Orlando
• When: 7 p.m. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, through Sept. 15
• Tickets: $15-$20
• Call: 407-722-7037
• Online: cornerstonetheatrecompany.com