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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Friday, Oct. 31, 2014

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In Arts & Entertainment Reviews

Next Act Theatre's production of "The Clockmaker" runs through Feb. 24.

"The Clockmaker" too hard to read


There are any number of ways to measure the success of a play, and one is to watch the audience when they leave.

If they are engaged, they may be smiling, or frowning or have a furrowed brow or humming a tune or creating a collective buzz of sound as they verbally trade opinions.

I watched the crowd coming out of "The Clockmaker" Saturday night at Next Act Theatre.

Faces were impassive. Nobody was talking. They were just walking to get their coats.

It's not that "The Clockmaker" is a bad play. It's won countless awards in the decade of its life and has been performed all over. The cast of Richard Halverson, Drew Brehl, Molly Rhode and Dan Katula is like the lineup you'd pick for the Pro Bowl of acting. And they were all marvelous.

The problem is that the play made me feel stupid. I didn't really get it, or at least I don't think I did. Sitting next to me was a couple who made a point of announcing that they were regular supporters of Next Act.

Midway through the hour and a half performance (no intermission) the man whispered to his wife, "This is too weird" to which she replied "Yes. Yes. Weird."

On some level (one I'm unfamiliar with) this play is a delightful romance. It's got everything you would want in a great romance. A beautiful girl (Rhode) who is being beaten by her husband (Katula) and who takes a clock she broke after he hit her to the clockmaker (Brehl).

They flirt and it's obvious he is falling hard for her. And then the play jumps either forward or backward in time. I'm not sure which.

There are two universes in this play. The past and the future. They are bright and dark. They are funny and frightening. They are happy and sad. They are lonely and content. They are brave and afraid.

And it was awfully hard for me to keep up with the changes that came roaring by at a dizzying pace. Maybe if the play were slower it would be easier, but without an intermission 90 minutes is a long time to be perplexed and working so hard.

I think the pace of the play prevented the one thing it needed - emotion. There was so much word play and crazy ideas floating around that it was difficult to actually care about these characters.

It seemed almost as if this was some kind of game that only the players really understood. The rest of us were left on the sidelines wondering how to tell when someone scored.

I can't say I disliked this play. Being able to watch such great actors ply their craft for 90 minutes is a treat not to be missed. I loved that part of it. The lights, sound, costumes and set were a delight.

I truly believe that great theater can do a lot of things. It can educate you, make you smile, challenge you, frighten you, amaze you and make you whistle and sing.

But when it confuses you, then, as the astronaut said, "Houston, we have a problem."

"The Clockmaker" runs until Feb. 24. For more information, visit the Next Act Theatre website.


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