Friday, September 24, 2010

23 Sep'10

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

TORONTO - While few dispute Socrates' assertion that an unexamined life is not worth living, the notion that the afterlife might be worth a session under the microscope has received precious little attention in modern theatre. Until Alberta playwright Stephen Massicotte came along, that is.

In his latest work, THE CLOCKMAKER, Massicotte takes the time-worn notion of creation as a finely tuned time piece and turns it on its ear in a work that borrows liberally from such disparate sources as Franz Kafka, Alfred Hitchcock and Charlie Chaplin, without ever diminishing the playwright's impressive creative capital.

And while THE CLOCKMAKER, which had its Toronto premiere at the Tarragon Theatre Wednesday, may be just the latest work to hit the Toronto stage -- still sporting the hyper-theatrical glitter that marks a lot of the work coming out of Wild Rose Country -- it doesn't stop there. For even though it is cloaked in the theatrical preciousness popularized by Edmonton's Teatro La Quindicina and more recently that city's Catalyst Theatre, this production directed by Bob White moves beyond such stylized theatricality to actually touch its audience.

That's thanks in no small part to the fine work of the two leads -- Christian Goutsis in the title role of Herr Mann, an unassuming little German clockmaker with more than a few nervous ticks; and Claire Calnan, as Frieda, his love interest. Mind you, under White's assured direction, they get a lot of help from two other highly skilled performers cast in supporting roles -- Kevin Bundy, chilling as Frieda's abusive husband and Damien Atkins as the mysterious Monsieur Pierre -- in this fast-paced, 95-minute work.

THE CLOCKMAKER is simultaneously simple and complex, funny and sad. It all starts with a bewildering confrontation between the aforementioned Monsieur Pierre, an over-officious bureaucrat of the highest order (although just what order remains unclear for most of the play) and the hapless Herr Mann, newly arrived at an unnamed destination where he is under suspicion for a murder that has not yet been committed. From there the action rockets back to Herr Mann's shop, just in time for Frieda to arrive bearing a shattered clock she hopes Herr Mann can repair -- even though it is clearly irreparable. The rest of the work unfolds rather tidily on these two plains, with Scott Reid's industrial set serving a multitude of purposes, lit by Rebecca Picherack and only marginally impeded by the overlong blackouts that separate the scenes.

There was, one suspects, more than a touch of whimsy in artistic director Richard Rose's decision to launch Tarragon's 40th anniversary season with a work about time -- but happily, as this production proves so conclusively, there was more than a dollop of genius as well.

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