On its face, Dan Clancy’s new play, “The Timekeepers,” looks like yet another case study in concentration-camp psychodrama.Throw two contrasting characters — in this case, a Jewish artisan and a gay hustler — into confinement and watch the sparks and, inevitably, their unconquerable common humanity fill the room. Is this sanctifying ritual really worth another candle?
In this case, yes. For while “The Timekeepers” boasts few subtle or original insights into the Holocaust, the care and detail of its characterizations make it a lovely, engaging acting duet. And the director Lee Brock’s luminous production is blessed with sharp, well-modulated performances that make its familiar paces feel fresh.
As Benjamin, a sober-minded Berlin watchmaker whose trade has earned him a relative reprieve at the Sachsenhausen camp, Seth Barrish hunches over his tools with the tensile focus of a man trained to miniaturize his movements, not only by his delicate work but also by a hostile world.
The homosexual Hans, somewhat implausibly introduced as Benjamin’s new assistant by the casually brutal capo (Chris Cantwell), has a wider range of survival tactics: whatever it takes, from servicing guards for a helping of marmalade to doling out news about Benjamin’s family in return for watch-repair lessons.
Eric Paeper plays this needy, pushy diva definitively, undaunted by the role’s flights of fancy and feeling. Even as the two men bond, a little too easily, in a shared love for opera, Mr. Paeper edges Hans’s swish with a darkly flashing melancholy.
He also keeps our focus on the grubby, self-interested compromises of camp life; at times Hans seems less a gay martyr than an erstwhile habitué of the “Cabaret” Kit Kat Club, rudely awakened in a tomorrow that doesn’t belong to him. This isn’t just a welcome complication to the show’s moral starkness; it’s true grit in the gears of the play’s clocklike progress toward hard-won empathy.
|Average Reader Rating (4.8 stars, 5 votes)|
|MOST HELPFUL READER REVIEW|
|Barrow Group's The Timekeepers, October 19, 2006|
Reviewer: ogradyjereIt is dangerous to walk into a theater with sky high expectations, for no other reason than it sets an almost insurmountable obstacle for the performers to overcome. So when I discovered that the artistic staff of The Barrow Group were mounting a production of Dan Clancy's, "The Timekeepers" with an all-star creative team that includes TBG (The Barrow Group) Executive Director Eric Paeper and Co-Artistic Director Seth Barrish in co-starring roles, being directed by Co-Artistic Director Lee Brock, I knew I was going to fail miserably at expectation maintenance. What a relief it was to discover that this production far exceeds any hopes I had had for a major achievement. Under the steady hand of Brock's direction, Barrish and Paeper definitely practice what they preach, (or, in this case, teach, in their actor training program), by weaving together subtle and nuanced performances that crackle with spontaneity, authenticity, and genuine human warmth. It is impossible to not become genuinely invested in the fate of these characters. In addition to Barrish and Paeper, the cast also includes Chris Cantwell, successfully imposing as another prisoner assigned as a superior. Clancy's play is set in a concentration camp where two men, one Jewish and one homosexual, must confront their prejudices as they fight for survival. He avoids the obvious pitfalls of cliche and provides a genuinely moving story that speaks volumes about human compassion and decency.