The audience enters a well-lighted and spacious room of white walls, high ceilings and black chairs. At its center is the set of a cozy New York apartment where the two-act play is to happen. It is wide, outspread, detailed. The patrons happily sit to get a comfortable view. Yes, comfortable. We all need to be comfortable and happy and content. Because that is what this is all about. Happiness and comfort and contentment. For the next couple of hours, Red Turnip Theater’s production of Donald Margulies’ Pulitzer prize-winning play TIME STANDS STILL will make you examine if happiness and comfort and contentment really go hand in hand (in hand).
Wounded Sarah, a photo journalist, returns home from a two-week coma after she met a bomb blast in Iraq. She could have saved herself from the blast, had she not lingered her camera a moment too long at a spot. Her partner for eight years, James – a freelance journalist – brought her back to New York so she could comfortably recover from her traumas. As she slowly recovers, Sarah starts to get pressed into considering the conventional life with James versus her appetite for tragedy and misery in war.
Red Turnip’s TIME STANDS STILL could not be an easy watch, but with its careful direction it delicately disentangles the complexities of its characters. Director Rem Zamora establishes a feel of passive comfort and appreciative convention to polarize Sarah’s ongoing dilemmas. He connects a steady flow between episodes through visual projections (designed beautifully by GA Fallarme), constructing a sensible interconnectedness among scenes of varying issues. As Margulies’ complex material unravels under the stage lights, Zamora manages to present its clear arguments on romance, contentment, purpose and being.
Nonie Buencamino plays James, a freelance journalist, graciously in love with his Sarah. Here, Buencamino captures the affecting ideal husband, unknowingly boxed in conventionality and settling down. Much can be said about Ana Abad Santos. As the strong-willed Sarah, she plays a woman of solemn detachment, as if her heart had suffered obscure wounds brought about by the fact that she is being wheeled back to an unadventurous and aimless life with James. Santos perfectly captures the stubbornness of an adventurer who sees purpose as the only way to live. Like photography, she freezes her emotions and excitements that somehow give this lovely, purpose-driven woman our sigh and nod for her tenacity. Nor Domingo as Richard, the couple’s Editor, depicts the pathetic separation of the boss and the field worker. His life is in comfortable New York, his happiness is in his wife and child. Despite their joyful familiarities, Richard’s untroubled character deliberately antagonizes James and Sarah’s lives. Giannina Ocampo as Mandy, Richard’s newfound partner, is arguably the least complex in Margulies’ ensemble of complicated characters. But one can still argue otherwise. Her blissful truthfulness represents our own ignorance of a world we only see at face value. Ocampo, at some point, is a hit. Her punchlines balance the heavy scores of Margulies’ plot as she combines unpretentious prose with flights of rough and mindless fancy.
TIME STANDS STILL covers a lot of issues about domesticity, relationships, and identities. But above all, it questions Journalism from a moral standpoint. As a profession it argues its purpose to tell – not to save; to capture – but not to touch. It’s an ambiguous dilemma of a journalist, wanting to “tell the day” than to save it. We see friends in Facebook capturing hidden scandals and miserable accidents and sharing it to the world, while we continue to wonder if they even reached out a hand to help. Is Journalism a professionalized pornography of misery and tragedy? Is it a self-serving job or a life-saving profession? Are journalists blinded by the square of their lenses, that they forget that they still have the power to rescue the moment? Are we, as people, already too immersed in the celebration of the tragedies around us that our media willingly supply us with our addictions? Are our journalists addicts themselves?
I can only answer for myself. For all I know, these journalists live their purpose by gathering facts, and recording tragic pasts so that we can make good of our presents and save our futures.
And so the audiences leave the white hall and its well-lighted space brimming with disturbing, yet truthful, answers. James and Sarah’s story goes with them as they brave the cold evening and fellowship in a late dinner. It is painfully cathartic, surprisingly eye-opening, yet wonderfully freeing.
Red Turnip Theater once again offers the Filipino audience another daring material. Margulies’ Pulitzer prize-winning material about people who are imprisoned in their own passions and choices will surely make you wonder if you are happy and contended with yourself, with your life, with your being.
Red Turnip’s TIME STANDS STILL opens today, January 30 at Whitespace – 2314 Chino Roces Avenue Extension (formerly Pasong Tamo Extension), Makati, and will run for five weekends until March 8, 2015. For tickets log on to Ticketworld.com or call 891-9999; or you can email Red Turnip Theater at email@example.com.
Special thanks to my favorite photographer Erickson dela Cruz for the photo of Ms. Ana Abad Santos.