“Time Belongs to the People”

by Carlyn Aquiline
City Theatre Literary Manager and Dramaturg

Happy New Year! After some brief holiday time, we headed back into the rehearsal hall just before the new year for the start of rehearsals for The Clockmaker by Stephen Massicotte (the author of last season’s Mary’s Wedding). It hadn’t struck me until then how appropriate it was that we had scheduled this rehearsal process—by no conscious design—at a time of year when people are remembering and re-evaluating their pasts and making choices for the future. The Clockmaker is all about time, and memory, and consciously pursuing the well-lived life—literally, creating the time of your life while you still can. In the play, Heinrich Mann, the clockmaker, meets Frieda Mannheim when she brings him her husband’s mangled cuckoo clock to repair. And this action in due course sets them off on a race against time to solve a puzzle that ignites universal and existential questions of identity, the mystery and meaning of life, personal responsibility, choice, the ethical life—never let it be said that Stephen Massicotte flinched from the big questions!

Artistic Director Tracy Brigden is directing The Clockmaker, so she said a few words at the first rehearsal to the assembled staff and cast, which includes Harry Bouvy as Heinrich Mann (look for Harry’s blog—I’m sorry, “not a blog”—entry following this one on his triumphant return to his hometown just for this role), Tami Dixon (A Marriage Minuet, The Missionary Position, The Muckle Man) as Frieda Mannheim, Joel Ripka (Mezzulah, 1946) as Adolphus Mannheim, and making his first appearance at City Theatre, Daryll Heysham as Monsieur Pierre. Here are some highlights of her remarks:

 “Time belongs to the people.” It’s sort of the slightly Communist catchphrase of the play. Jeff Cowie [set designer] and I almost made a red neon sign that was part of the set that said that. [She was kidding.] But what does it mean? Other time slogans in the play: “We can’t make time, that’s up to you” and “…making the best with the time they have.” …Time bounces all over the place in the story—and makes us piece together a complicated puzzle out of order. Time moves differently in different scenes…What strikes me most in the time theme is the idea of how you spend time….the idea of enjoying it while you can.

Those who saw Mary’s Wedding last season may read Tracy’s remarks (and mine) and be reminded of it since Stephen’s storytelling in that play is told with a fluid sense of time, place, and memory. Mary’s Wedding is the story of Mary and Charlie, who connect in her dreamscape even after he has gone off to fight in World War I and she has remained behind in Canada. In The Clockmaker, however, Stephen may have invented a new genre: absurdist romantic comedy metaphysical murder mystery, in reverse. He calls the tone “Kafka lite” and refers to it as his “atheist play”—but the world of the play actually has a clear theology, just one invented by the playwright. Another characteristic it does share with Mary’s Wedding is a charm and sweetness in the love story. And despite having its genesis in the death of Stephen’s stepfather, which got him to thinking about things like existence and the root of morality, the play has a distinctive and winning sense of humor. (Stephen told us on the first day of rehearsal that all of his plays end up being about how to live well and how to die well. He said, when he’s in the process of writing, he’ll be thinking he’s writing a new play and then realizes he’s writing the same play again. I think that’s not unusual—all playwrights have one or two recurring themes that crop up again and again.)

Perhaps an anecdote from the Clockmaker Meet and Greet will provide a glimpse into the mind that can achieve equilibrium among such a number of elements that seem incongruent. As an ice breaker, we introduced ourselves and then answered a question related to the show’s themes: something along the lines of “what would you want to make sure was present in Heaven (or your version of the “good” afterlife) when you get there?” (which was already making a number of big assumptions!). Lots of people said things like “ice cream,” “chocolate,” “books,” and “my family.” Stephen Massicotte said, “Charles Darwin—because it would be ironic.” See? It opens a window, doesn’t it?

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