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Studio Theatre—-Stage 4
Saturday, July 20, 8:45 p.m. Friday, July 26, 8:45 p.m. Sunday, July 28, 2:30 p.m.
They say: “Mr. Knight dies, leaving behind 106 unrepaired clocks. Living in the shadow of their father’s mistakes, Jeff, Jim and their friend, the playwright, wonder if measuring time accurately is possible at all. If not, what is the future?”
Do yourself a favor and get there a little early. For one thing, this is more performance art than play, and the distinction between preshow and show has been deliberately blurred. “End of the Road” by Boys II Men is piping through the speakers. Flying toasters and bread slices from the After Dark screensaver series soar across the back wall. Yet this is about more than taking you back to the early ‘90’s and getting you oriented to the cultural moment at which the tale begins. A brief chronology of the events that inspired The Clocks is also projected on the back wall. The whole cycle takes less than five minutes, but this is the most linear that the creative team’s style of storytelling will get, so it pays to watch it. It feels like Not A Robot Theatre Company’s way of inviting the audience to sit back, relax, and enjoy the experiments to come without fear of confusion.
Enter the creators and performers Jacy Barber and Jason Patrick Wells. Barber starts the show by manipulating a puppet that is a symbol of young man; the son of Mr. Knight, and a childhood friend to Wells. Barber rocks the puppet in time to the rhythm of a ticking clock. Mr. Knight passed away, leaving behind an attic full of broken clocks and Wells to ponder the manner of his passing and the bizarre contents of his house for years after the fact. The images presented throughout the show are both strange and beautiful. The Clocks had me from the moment a flying toaster floated down over Barber’s face and the face of the forlorn puppet.
Watching the show is like watching a moving collage that incorporates dance, puppetry, recorded and spoken dialogue, childhood toys, a 90’s playlist, and those projections. All this is underscored by an unusual soundtrack of ticking clocks. The ticks are not clock noises, but recordings of objects and ambient noises made to sound like clocks, such as beer cans being opened or water dripping. Every object and sound on the stage, in fact, is a combination of more than one influence.
One of the key set pieces is a grandfather clock made of several pieces of cardboard. Since you are a reader of the Fringe and Purge blog you probably heard that said clock was thrown away and reconstructed in record time between a performance at Studio and an additional one at Goethe. I will say simply that the grandfather clock turned out to be every bit as essential as Wells and Barber claimed. It’s crucial both to the inventive staging and the story.
Personally though, I would give the award for “Best Use of Cardboard On Stage” to the mask of a transformer. At least I think it’s meant to be a transformer, a cuddly one, softened by having been rendered in cardboard. It’s like if Winnie the Pooh had a baby with Optimus Prime, you’d get this mask.
This might all sound like a muddle, but I think that’s the idea. The themes are the sort that can haunt and confuse for a lifetime. The Clocks examines adolescence, the father/son relationship, violence, death, and friendship. Wells and Barber seem fascinated by how the passage of time affects memories. They are not trying to piece the past back together or impose a narrative on it. The cumulative effect of all their efforts is like watching the memory itself. You don’t get the playback of a whole scene you just get snippets of an event. The exact sequence doesn’t matter. This is what things look like after time has changed them. Or what songs often sound like in our heads. You don’t really sing the whole thing to yourself, just the chorus.
Very few people will watch this show and catch all the references and influences. I certainly didn’t. If you don’t know who Boys II Men are or don’t know what a transformer is, I would wager it doesn’t matter. Wells and Barber are not experimenting with theatrical forms just for the sake of it. Every choice is made in service of the story and the audience. The tale resonates because we all went through adolescence, we all know pain, and we all walk around rehashing our private jumble of memories.
See it if: You love inventive storytelling. Especially see it if that last thing is true and you were attending school dances back when (gulp) Counting Crows and Boys II Men were topping the charts.
Skip it if: You’re a traditionalist at heart and even a moving story can’t make you sit through a collage of puppetry, dance, and nineties pop.