Friday, February 13, 2015

Time Stands Still (Red Turnip Theater)

Sarah (Ana Abad Santos) returns home after waking up from several weeks of coma caused by a roadside bombing in Iraq which almost took her life. James (Nonie Buencamino), her live-in partner of eight years, is excited for them to start anew, far from the dangers of covering a war that has brought about irrevocable pain and loss to everyone involved. As a journalist, his objective is to make the world aware of such occurrences through words, which are supplemented by the vivid photos she takes as an award-winning photographer. The accident has put some things into perspective for them, including some sort of semi-retirement as well as their stance on their relationship as a couple. He is willing to give up his passion for a life of convenience back in the States. She, on the contrary, misses field work so much despite her near death experience. One of them has got to give at some point, but perhaps some opposing fundamental beliefs in life are just not meant to be reconciled.

The thing about straight plays replete with social relevance would normally bore you to death unless you know how to listen. Most of the time, the real satisfaction derived from such theater experience is actually on the dialogue, and does this play not have so much. Even if you could not relate to the unquenchable thirst for action fueled by this duo’s passion, you could still get to learn a lot about life in general. Issues with regard to cohabitation and family life, for example, are some of the recurring themes that figure in the play.

The set is simple and functional. The characters could wash the dishes whenever they want, and they really do seem to be in a large studio-type condo that would not pose potential trauma to anyone claustrophobic. The only glitch would be the fridge, which was obviously not turned on. And then you also have the cardboard skyscrapers outside the window, which is not really a major boo-boo but noticeable nonetheless. Transitions are achieved through total darkness, with most scenes introduced by a holographic montage of photos and clips taken from the war.

In terms of acting, Abad Santos is the star of the show. There is no doubt about it. Her accent is spot-on; her words are always perfectly enunciated. If you sit in the front row you would even get the bonus of seeing her eyes in the middle of a bravura performance for every scene. Her eyes are awesome; she effectively uses them to substitute for dialogue whenever she throws a quick glance or a sharp stare at any of her other three co-actors. The character may not be that vocal about it, but her struggle us evident with her every move.

Buencamino, on the other hand, seems a bit off at the beginning. There is just something with his diction and the annoying echo of his lapel that made his lines quite incomprehensible during the first half. It eventually got better after the intermission. Regardless of whatever technical glitch, he is able to hold his own against Abad Santos, although the character appears to be dependent on rage and raising his voice to drive a point. If anything, it complements the leading lady’s subtlety sometimes.

The supporting actors are okay. Nor Domingo is funny; Giannina Ocampo even more so. They do get their very own subplot as the key players or a May-December love affair, but they do not really get to offer anything memorable aside from serving as the lead characters’ conscience. At least we do not get boring monologues to shed light on their inner struggles. Their friends do that for us instead, and it is good that they could be funny yet make perfect sense at the same time.

Once again, this is a straight play and because most of us have notoriously short attention spans, it is safe to say that it is not for everyone. I think people who would enjoy this most would be those who are currently experiencing some sort of midlife crisis about their careers and relationships. Individuals with unparalleled passion for their chosen professions would also appreciate the stark reality on display here, particularly on how one accident or mistake could get in the way of fulfilling your calling in life. There is always that tendon-snapping pirouette for a ballet dancer; that inevitable hip injury for a figure skater; that irreversible slip of the tongue for a newscaster; so on and so forth. Time Stands Still offers its take on that what-if scenario, and then some.

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