by Ashley Pabilonia
"True callings and genuine love. It's complicated," is how Jobsite Theater summarizes their rendition of Donald Margulies's Time Stands Still, a layered story that examines how global events, love, and life aspirations intersect after a photographer's near-death experience in Iraq.
After an arduous flight, Sarah and James, the central couple of the play, trudge into their home -- an open floor plan apartment well-designed by scenic to be highly functional with touches of cosmopolitan cozy chic particularly in the kitchen space overlooking the cityscape projected on a screen behind the window. She's burned, bruised, and hobbling on crutches she's using with a broken arm to support an injured leg due to an exploded bomb.
Jobsite's spin on the play breathes realism into these characters by peeling away at these layers and perhaps showcasing the cast's best acting when they're hyped up or broken down under the weight of their emotions. Joanna Sycz's Sarah is dry-witted, cracking jokes despite Richard's silent, trembling horror at her scars -- props to the effects team of Blake High schoolers for a makeup job well done. Though she's also stubborn and hardened enough to refuse coddling and insist her photo reels of history can help in fixing the wrongs of the world, scene by scene her resoluteness erodes, and Sycz explodes in raw anger and pain tangible beyond the fourth wall. Her final scenes bittersweetly embracing James, leaning against the door crying, and rushing to polish her camera lens and peer into the viewfinder tell her story's ending more powerfully than words. Since David Jenkens had been producing behind the scenes for Jobsite's previous shows, seeing him in character for my first time proved his talent isn't limited to where he's working in relation to the stage. His James is part doting, part damaged and trying to move himself and Sarah forward in a direction she might not want to follow. He conveys James's care in how he thunders through the door to pick her up after a hard crash despite a heated argument prior about an indiscretion while Sarah remained in Iraq with their interpreter. This scene is equally matched in intensity by Sycz as we witness the first crack in the pulled-together facade Sarah's put on in the face of her accident and recovery, letting herself mold into his frame as she questions his faith and loyalty. I only wish the couch wasn't blocking view of her fall and his assisting her up, but the tenderness enacted from their performances still sells the scene beautifully.
Much of the script's humor stems from the show's other couple. Brian Shea's Richard plays mediator between the other characters. He's very much a smart, informed mentor and confidant to Sarah and James but slackens in stuttering befuddlement when Mandy says something uninformed or unfiltered, which Maggie Mularz executes with elongated earnestness in her words that endears you to her. Despite her early naivete, Mandy offers a perspective that challenges and grounds her sophisticated, jaded peers. After Jamie accuses Richard of not working hard enough to get his refugee article published, Mandy despairs how they've dwelt so much on misery and wishes for them to see what else is beautiful and joyful. Moments like these prove Mularz's Mandy to be far wiser than the bubbly airhead first impressions paint her.
I also struggled to consider the love and morality themes as a cohesive narrative. The play spotlighted both of them, but I debated which one needed to take precedent and found the concluding focus on the relationship development almost callous, like you should do what satisfies you before what's right -- but even that is a more complicated matter, as the show relays. I think Marguilies structured his play this way to exemplify that every aspect of our lives is interconnected. Even if we try to compartmentalize our different parts, at some point they meet and we have to figure out how to balance and prioritize them, then decide if we can live with the choices we make. Time Stands Still might be a hard pill to swallow for its unflinching takes on personal life and global responsibility, but it's a relatable story infused with thoughtful musings, dashes of humor, and characters we can find facets of ourselves in -- an effort overall well-orchestrated by Jobsite's cast and crew.
Time Stands Still runs till July 31 in Straz Center's Shimberg Playhouse. Showtimes on Thursdays through Saturdays are 8 p.m. and Sundays at 4 p.m. Talkbacks featuring CAIR Florida and Tampa Bay Times writers Susan Taylor Martin and Ben Montgomery follow the 17th and 24th's showings respectively.