Wind yourself up for a good time
Next Act gives Stephen Massicotte's play pitch-perfect actors and neat use of space. We'll keep its mysteries secret.
Going into it, I sort of knew the plot twists and anticipated the way the play handled time travel and memory. Every metaphor seemed too obvious. (Herr Mann — as in Everyman? Come on.).
But I went into it with a lot of background information. Avoid that; enjoy the The Clockmaker as it comes to you. In the meantime, my compliments to Next Act Theatre and director Mary MacDonald Kerr for an excellent production. And now, I will attempt to relate the facts while dodging spoilers.
The extremely sparse set allows the imagination to take over. I love that; you can assume that everyone in the audience is seeing a slightly different play.
Drew Brhel as clockmaker Heinrich (Herr) Mann gavbe my favorite performance. His humble, nervous, lovable demeanor is apparent within the first 10 seconds of his dialogue with Monsieur Pierre (Richard Halverson). A tense interrogation takes place, with Monsieur Pierre simply asking at one point “who are you?” That question might frame the entire story.
We’re introduced to Frieda Mannheim (Molly Rhode), who visits Herr Mann’s clock shop toting an obliterated cuckoo clock. She nervously explains that it needs to be fixed for her husband, Adolphus. She bumped into it. Twice. Herr Mann is suspicious of her story and demeanor. When he says that he can’t fix it, she looks at him in horror. “Certainly it can’t mean life or death,” says Herr Mann. Frieda says nothing and hurries away. The interaction is charming and immediately intimate.
We receive a raw and uncomfortable glimpse into Frieda’s home life, with Dan Katula, who brilliantly plays the menacing Adolphus. His anger is at first quiet, simmering, and completely terrifying. Later we see moments of full-blown abuse. Katula’s performance is a close second to Brhel’s.
In The Clockmaker, playwright Stephen Massicotte weaves repeated threads and metaphors. One of the first rambling stories Herr Mann tells Monsieur Pierre is how a train ride can put him right to sleep, ever since he was a little boy (“something to do with the inner ear”). It’s lightly referenced throughout. We hear a recurring bit about “the greatest clockmaker” (eh?). The fact that smell is our strongest sense attached to memory is perhaps belabored in its application to Frieda (who smells like “bread and rain,” as we heard a billion times).
Really, I don’t want to say much more about a play that does not benefit from foreknowledge. But to tickle your curiosity, I’ll leave you with a couple of its heaviest lines: “Revenge keeps ticking.” “Nothing kills peace faster than memory.”
The Clockmaker runs through Feb. 24 at Next Act Theatre. See the full performance schedule and purchase tickets ($30) online or call (414) 278-0765.