THEATRE REVIEW: “TIME STANDS STILL”

Theatre Jacksonville opened its first play of 2015 with “Time Stands Still,” a Broadway hit in 2010 by Donald Margulies. This contemporary drama will be on stage at 2032 San Marco Avenue until January 31. For reservations, call (904) 396-4425 or visit theatrejax.com.

Playwright Margulies, previously the recipient of a Pulitzer Prize for “Dinner with Friends,” has crafted a provocative work with “Time Stands Still,” which is both a unique love story, and an intriguing character study. Sarah and James both work as war journalists, one of the most dangerous occupations in the world; she is a photographer, he is a writer. They have been together for eight years, and have covered the world’s major hotspots. How dangerous are their working conditions? The Committee to Protect Journalists provides statistics on their website: between 1992 and January, 2015, more than 1,100 journalists have been killed throughout the world; 166 of the deaths were in Iraq.

The play opens in the couple’s Brooklyn apartment after a Middle Eastern trip did not go well. James witnessed a brutal killing and was so traumatized he returned home for treatment. While James was gone, Sarah continued photographing in combat zones and suffered serious leg injuries and facial wounds from a bomb that killed her interpreter.

As they both recuperate, they begin to examine their relationship and possible changes in lifestyle. Should they marry, or is living together enough? Should they change occupations for something more normal, something less hazardous?

A second couple visits to welcome Sarah home. Richard, who is middle-aged, is a long-time personal friend of both, and the photo editor of a magazine that publishes their work. He has brought Mandy, his new girlfriend, along with him. Mandy is attractive, appealing, and quite young; Richard is just three years older than her father. While she at first appears naïve and impulsive, she displays an endearing wisdom in her comments later in the play.

Several subplots evolve. Mandy questions whether it is right for photo journalists to take pictures of abandoned children and not try to help them. Sarah defends the ethics of her profession, saying “The camera is there to record what goes on and that is life.” James and Richard get into a heated argument over a story James has written about the difficulties of African refugees that apparently won’t be published due to timing and lack of space.

This gem of a play brings up questions that we will let you discover when you experience it. Will Sarah and James return to jobs filled with adventure but also filled with great risks? They agree to marriage: can they make it a lasting one?

Award winning Director Michael Lipp has directed or acted in almost 75 local productions. He has been at the helm of 14 plays at Theatre Jacksonville, including last year’s magnificent record-setting “Les Misérables.” He has cast a truly brilliant and intelligent quartet of actors, capable of capturing the essence of this challenging script.

Erin Salem plays the spunky Sarah, accomplished photojournalist, with just the right amount of grit and sensitivity. Her only other appearance on local stages was in “Handle with Care,” also at TJ, in the role of a young Israeli woman who speaks almost no English.

Cory Simmons as James is making his debut in theatre in this area. His previous theatre experience was at Florida State University several years ago, while studying theatre and philosophy. He graduated from law school and is now a practicing Jacksonville attorney. He was quite believable as a journalist and the chemistry he shared with Sarah was exceptional.

Blythe Scott is also making her TJ debut, as the young and optimistic Mandy. She is as capable of speaking with her facial gestures as she is with her words. We first saw Ms. Scott as both a male and female character in ABET’s One Man, Two Guv’nors,” and were impressed by her comedic talents.

David M. Gile is the veteran actor in this cast, with an impressive list of credits including an award for Best Supporting Actor for his appearance in “A Few Good Men” at Theatre Jacksonville. His polished stage presence was, as usual, impeccable in the current production as the photo editor Richard. While we have enjoyed watching Mr. Gile in many performances, one stands out. A few seasons back, he stepped into a leading role as the defense attorney in “Night of January 16th” on short notice and was line-perfect and very convincing. He and Ms. Scott are delightful together in this show; you will enjoy their portrayal of a couple with age differences.

Scenic Designer/ Technical Director David Lynn made Dawson’s Brooklyn loft looked authentic, with its brick walls, and two windows filled with a view of the New York skyline. The technical production team included Sally Pettegrew (Costumes), Garth Kennedy (Assistant Technical Director), Michael Lipp (Sound Design), Sabrina Rockwell (Light Board Operator), Spencer Carr (Sound Board Operator), and Jon Scherf (Graphic Design). This production also marks the return to local theatre of Mark Rubens as Stage Manager; he was assisted by Jessica Faison.

Time stands still in photographs but not in this play. It is an interesting character study of four people and learning about their conflicts is compelling and relevant to our perceptions of current world issues.

About Dick Kerekes & Leisla Sansom

The Dual Critics of EU Jacksonville have been reviewing plays together for the past nine years. Dick Kerekes has been a critic since 1980, starting with The First Coast Entertainer and continuing as the paper morphed into EU Jacksonville. Leisla Sansom wrote reviews from time to time in the early 80s, but was otherwise occupied in the business world. As a writing team, they have attended almost thirty Humana Festivals of New America Plays at Actors Theatre in Louisville, Kentucky, and many of the annual conferences sponsored by the American Theatre Critics Association, which are held in cities throughout the country. They have reviewed plays in Cincinnati, Chicago, Miami, Sarasota, Minneapolis, Orlando, New York, Philadelphia, Sarasota, San Francisco, Shepherdstown, and The Eugene O’Neill Center in Waterford, Massachusetts. They currently review about one hundred plays annually in the North Florida area theaters, which include community, college, university, and professional productions.