“My Machine Is Powered by Clocks” The Ice Factory at the New Ohio Theatre (Closed July 6, 2013)

July 4, 2013 | Off-Broadway | Tags:
Written by B. Walker Sampson
Directed by Calla Videt
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“Regret that will make you want to set back the clock. And change things— “ (Jenny Glover)

In a re-telling/re-imagining of Robert Heinlein’s 1958-1959 short story “All You Zombies,” B. Walker Sampson’s “My Machine Is Powered by Clocks” tackles weighty concepts using a treasure trove of rhetorical schemes and tropes. The artful syntax of parallelisms, juxtapositions, and antitheses (schemes) are perfect stylistic devices for a play dealing with time travel. That futuristic concept is also handily supported by Sampson’s artful diction which makes use of metaphor (the beach, the bus), simile, personification, and hyperbole.

In fact, Sampson’s script is an extended metaphor for self-knowledge, self-acceptance, issues of regret and self-forgiveness, and the inter-connectedness of all living beings and the land they share. His play, though unnecessarily more esoteric than Heinlein’s straightforward tale, has recognizable merit. The audience easily connects to a theme which challenges the understanding of personal identity (who are we, after all?) and human finitude and responsibility.

Glover speaks for the collective unconscious of the audience when he admonishes Frank (himself, in fact) with, “Look, I have spent a lot of time obsessing over different possible outcomes. Alternatives to messes I’ve made I’ve wanted undone. Mistakes I keep making no matter how much I try to stop myself. But I believe, I want to believe, we’re not our own unstoppable forces. Somehow we can still change our minds.”

This is powerful writing which, unfortunately, is not equally powerfully dramatized on the New Ohio Theatre stage by the young and capable cast. Here, in this second Ice Factory Festival offering, the cast seems anesthetized and without any affect. The characters seem not to care about themselves or about the previous/future lives they experienced. Being one’s own birth mother and progeny simultaneously is a remarkable time-travel feat! Unfortunately, Grandpa and Frank and the others seem not only trapped in time but trapped in an emotionless vacuum.

Perhaps the cast lost its initial energy level when Grandpa (as bar tender) had to re-start his performance because front of house staff was deeply concerned about filling two empty seats a full fifteen minutes after curtain time. That might have been enough to bollix up the clockworks. Lamentably, the opening night audience will never know.