It takes a real master to successfully blend comedy, romance, crime drama, and metaphysical mystery into a single play. Fortunately, talented Canadian playwright Stephen Massicotte is just such a master and his gem of a play, The Clockmaker, receives an equally skillful DC area premiere at The Hub Theatre.
The Clockmaker establishes its unusual tone from the opening scene. Heinrich Mann is taken into an office to be interviewed by a perfectly controlled and eerily officious bureaucrat named Pierre. He is interviewed about who he is and whether he has anything to confess. In a subsequent Kafkaesque interview Heinrich learns he is under review for an unknown crime he has committed or may be about to commit.
The notion of Heinrich as a criminal seems odd. He is just a nervous and unassuming second generation clockmaker. He lives a quiet life until the day a woman named Frieda comes into his office. She brings a cuckoo clock smashed beyond repair (metaphor alert!). We soon learn that the clock was knocked to the ground during an episode of domestic violence by her abusive husband, Adolphus.
While Heinrich initially turns down the repair job, he later reconsiders and starts to build a relationship with Frieda. In time, Heinrich reveals his unrealized ambition to be the world’s greatest clockmaker. Frieda encourages him to lower his goals, pointing out the potential satisfaction of building a clock that could make all the difference in the world to one person. To anyone who remembers Harry Lime’s famous dismissive put-down of the lowly cuckoo clock in the classic movie “The Third Man”, Heinrich’s ultimate use of such a clock is an ironic rebuttal.
To reveal any more of the plot would be a disservice. The story becomes more mysterious, jumping back and forth in time, complicated by occasional memory lapses. I’d encourage you not to strain to reconcile every bit of information, but instead, sit back and enjoy an edgy thriller with elements worthy of an Alfred Hitchcock film. Ultimately the play comes together at the end with an explanation that is both meaningful and enormously satisfying.
Although The Clockmaker is an intelligent play, making it work requires a careful attention to the tone of the piece. Director Kirsten Kelly adroitly maintains the mood, balancing the off-kilter elements with a grounding sense of realism. She also draws perfectly pitched performances from the small cast.
Tom Story’s performance in the titled role is interesting and lively. From past performances, it’s clear he can play nervous humor in his sleep, but he also puts real heart into his portrayal of the lonely clockmaker. Helen Pafumi gives a convincing performance as Frieda, the battered woman, capturing both her fear and her indecision.
The supporting players are equally fine. Matt Bassett is convincingly eerie as the bureaucrat who has Heinrich’s file, and indeed his whole life, under review. Andrés Talero’s abusive and terrorizing husband justifies the warning that the play may be disturbing for those under 14.
At times it is easy to wonder how the DC area’s many theatre companies can continue to find enough interesting new works. This prize winning play from Calgary demonstrates the rewards of a broad search. The Clockmaker will stand the test of time and will be long remembered by audiences lucky enough to catch The Hub Theatre’s production.
Written by Stephen Massicotte
Directed by Kirsten Kelly
Produced by The Hub Theatre
Reviewed by Steven McKnight
Running time: 1 hour 35 min (no intermission)
Rating of the show: Highly Recommended
Celia Wren . Washington Post