The American Clock

I’ve got to get out more.

Last night, I trekked downtown to small venue I’d never been to before, one of the performing spaces for Cornish School of the Arts (it may be the only one…I don’t know).   I went to see the opening of The American Clock, by Arthur Miller, directed by Carol Roscoe.   Having directed a few university plays myself, and having experienced a wide variety of final products in such venues,  I went in with few expectations, which, by the way, I find to be the most rewarding approach to seeing theatre these days.   As I settled into my seat in the large, square black box theatre, I couldn’t help but reflect on all the time I spent in such places over the years.   A low ceiling, batten grid above me, small audience, large, deep squarish playing space.  To my right, a piano and ambiguous wing space.  In front of me a raised platform and a piece of rolling scaffolding.  To the left, not much…another shadowy space for entrances and exits and waiting.   It felt good to be there, in this rough theatre where students hammer away at their craft.  I imagined the classes there, and the exercises, and the rehearsals, Carol challenging these students, calling out of them performances they didn’t know they were capable of.   The play itself must have been a daring thing when it was written, it’s vaudevillian structure an unusual form by which to take on the morality and ethics of the Great Depression.   I knew nothing of The American Clock before the curtain went up, and I don’t know much more now in terms of the larger context of the play, but I found it compelling given the economics of today.  In her “Director’s Notes”, Carol talks of the frightening nature of the play, and after seeing it, I see what she meant.   I’ve been fortunate in the present economic downturn, but many have not.  It is devastating to lose all you have, and again, I say that without having lived through it, so in the spirit of AA, I suppose I should just shut up.  But my point is that the play as delivered by these talented young actors is a helpful and challenging meditation on the times in which we live.  The rise of multinational corporations, corporate farming, the role of “assistance” and its delivery, the difficulties of small business, the size and role of the federal government, the rising rage of those hardest hit by the times…it’s all there.   And when the music dies and the piano is carted away, the frustration and anger rises to a fever pitch, and the performances of the mother and father of the family in those moments are gutsy and heartbreaking.   I imagined just such scenes taking place in living rooms around the country over and over in the past five years.

I thought of my grandfather and grandmother as I watched.  He was a sharecropper in the 30’s, and it was difficult.   He was a crusty old man, and our sensibilities didn’t match up very well.  But as I reflect on what he lived through, I again  think I should have been kinder to him.   It’s so easy to judge.

Hats off to Cornish for this production.   Thanks.

The show runs this weekend (except for Thursday night), with a Sunday matinee and a Monday night performance as well.

How can you lose a whole country?

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