It can be hard to find a theater experience that treats audiences as equals, not as children with short attention spans or as rubes in need of consciousness raising. Instead we get slick entertainment, pedagogical lectures or some form of farce.
That is one of the reasons why Time Stands Still, with which Jobsite Theater closes its season, is such a delight. The play by Donald Margulies invites us into the living room and bedroom of a couple in the middle of a difficult transition. Margulies provides a fine script, peppered by the kind of dialogue that won him a Pulitzer a few years ago for Dinner With Friends. Credit Jobsite for choosing the play and a tight ensemble that keeps you focused on the story.
To capture that attention, the play brings in characters we don't see every day. James, a journalist, and his longtime girlfriend Sarah, a war photographer, are returning from Iraq to the apartment they shared. Both are damaged, he from PTSD and she by shrapnel that has left her badly scarred and on crutches. Yet their issues mirror all couples at one point or another who ask, "How far are we willing to go to keep this relationship? Do we still have anything in common?"
Into that ongoing conflict come Richard, Sarah's former editor, and Mandy, a new love interest 20 years Richard's junior. If you know reporters, a lot of the dialogue will sound familiar. James and Sarah obsessively take apart moments from their time in Iraq, mind-numbing life-and-death situations inextricably tied up in their stories. They are competitive, still lunging after the next project in different ways and wrapped up in their own importance.
The most comical contrast comes early on with the entrance of Mandy, an event planner bearing mylar balloons for Sarah. It's easy to write Mandy off as an airhead, and James and Sarah do. They can't resist chiding Richard for his conveniently midlife choice.
"There's young, and then there's embryonic," Sarah says.
We drop in on them over several months in two acts. Most of the action revolves around James and Sarah, who have been separated not so much by crisis but by their responses to it. James would like to freelance about horror movies, a pale reflection of the mental trauma he carries. Sarah seems to move back toward war, feeding the insatiable hunger that once united her with James. She finds his solicitude for her recovery cloying, and wishes he didn't ask "You okay?" quite so much.
Joanna Sycz turns in a nimble and grounded performance as Sarah, moving fluidly between conflicting emotions and the impact of events through the course of the play. David Jenkins, Jobsite's producing artistic director, is equally well cast as James, bringing dry humor and a relatable sadness to someone who would manifest both of those traits. Brian Shea as Richard supplies comic moments as only he can, making the most of Margulies' lifelike dialogue.
Maggie Mularz elects not to do a bubbly stereotype as Mandy, instead reflecting someone more straightforward and vulnerable. She says what the audience is thinking and delivers some of the show's best lines.
Summer Bohnenkamp should take a bow in a directorial debut. Time Stands Still is close enough to reality to keep audiences engaged, and the full house on opening night seemed to be fully dialed in. This play asks questions about the way we all live, then answers them as we ourselves might — freighted by circumstance, and ripe for second guessing.
Contact Andrew Meacham at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248. Follow @torch437.