Some Fringe shows grab their audiences with techniques that are humorous or shocking, others move in more mysterious ways. The Clocks belongs in this “other” category. Both spare and surrealist it unfolds at a meticulous pace.
Random games and tasks are sprinkled throughout its 35-minute duration. Written by Jason Patrick Wells and directed by Jacy Barber, the show has a cast of two artists: Wells and Barber.
Prior to the beginning of the performance, projections lit up the Studio Theater’s 4th floor stage space. Toasters with wings and brief lines of text floated across the back wall. Lines of words and numbers marked different points in time: 1861 the first shot of the Civil War… 1993 Counting Crows release August and Everything After… 1994 stranger comes to get clock back…
Clocks feature prominently throughout the piece: at one point, images of clocks are projected onto the back wall, covering its surface like wallpaper. During another scene Wells fashions a miniature grandfather clock out of pieces of cardboard. At the beginning of the show, drops of water are heard rhythmically hitting a surface like the ticking of a time-keeper.
But the show is not all abstract images and surrealistic concepts. One of the initial projections marking certain years reveals a father beating a son, and the show opens with Wells and Barber manipulating a tiny puppet-like figure while a voice says, “his father just beat him again.” Violence permeates the dialogue as well when curse words fill a statement by a recorded voice that sounds as if someone is being insulted and berated.
by Jason Patrick Wells
at Studio Theatre – Stage 4
1501 14th Street NW
Washington, DC, 20005
[ An additional performance has been added at Goethe Institut – Gallery on Saturday, July 13th at 9:30pm.]
Details and tickets
It’s difficult to say how the scenes connect or why they appear in the order that they do, but there is an aesthetic consistency that holds the show together. Wells and Barber interact in a casual, quotidian way, even when one of them is wearing a cardboard mask that suggests a bear’s face.At times the recorded voice poses questions like “how is time recorded?” or “what is remembered?”
As I was walking home after the show I was thinking about how clocks offer us a false sense of controlling time, suggesting that we have a certain order or logic in our lives. Maybe this is one reason why they were such popular objects with Surrealists like Salvador Dali. As a performance, The Clocks belies any linear or straightforward sense of time. Even the games that appear in the show — Wells and Barber play marbles and later on use a Ouija board — are pastimes that challenge rigid notions of control.
Alongside the seeming randomness and spirit of experimentation that pervade this production, there is also attention to craft and nuance: Barber maneuvers the puppet-creature with exquisite delicacy, and at the end of the performance the Counting Crows reappear, this time acoustically.
Running just over a half-hour, The Clocks offers a respite from action-packed spectacles and plays with neat endings. There’s something gentle and curious in its meandering, elusive approach.