Laden with postmodern gloom and narcissism, The Fastest Clock in the Universe is an offbeat play about "human cannibals" struggling to define themselves in a world bereft of meaning, sense or care. Despite the characters' attempts to dial back the forces of time, they're eventually compelled to reckon with the unalterable effects of age. And while Philip Ridley's absurdist piece doesn't exactly break new dramatic ground -- Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale touches upon similar ideas, as do most of Samuel Beckett's plays -- HorseChart Theatre Company's production, which is being presented at the Bug Performance and Media Art Center, works its darkly humorous charms by manipulating our understanding of the seemingly benign and inconsequential.
Where's the harm, for instance, if a self-centered lout like Cougar Glass (Philip Russell) wants to celebrate his nineteenth birthday for the umpteenth time when most everyone knows he's on the verge of turning thirty? And, given that he's a willing participant in his lover's perennial charade, who cares if Captain Tock (Don Ryan) is a boot-licking enabler? Although he's an ineffectual dreamer, the affable antique collector is abundantly aware of his complicity in perpetuating Cougar's lie, which is more than can be said for sixteen-year-old Foxtrot Darling (Brandon Moynihan), a fresh-faced student who nearly becomes Cougar's personal party favor. And it's not hard to see why: Both Foxtrot and his pregnant, dingy girlfriend, Sherbet Gravel (Alexa Polmer), possess the natural good looks and youthful energy that Cougar covets. On the opposite end of the appeasement spectrum, Cougar's eighty-year-old landlady, Cheetah Bee (Barbara Porecca), periodically reminds him of his relative youth ("All I have before me is sickness and death," she says), especially whenever Cougar has a sudden reality attack.
The two-hour play, which was originally produced in London in 1992, moves along at a fairly brisk pace, interrupted only by a few uncomfortable pauses and light flashes that, as adroitly orchestrated by director J.K. Palmer, seem to indicate the presence of external, controlling forces. In this godless world, though, their influence is less obvious than might be expected.
Although none of the actors attempts to replicate a British dialect -- a choice that robs the dialogue of its Pinteresque cadence and makes it sound like a Sam Shepard drama -- their performances are otherwise engaging. Ryan and Polmer, in particular, manage to elevate idiosyncrasy to the level of tragic flaw. And the ensemble executes the climactic scene with riveting brutality. Despite the fact that it doesn't appear to communicate an overt message or theme, Ridley's bizarre play is both disquieting and thought-provoking. Much like Beckett's Endgame, the characters seem trapped in a decaying environment where dread springs eternal and hope seems comfortably pointless. Except that, in this case, the inhabitants of Ridley's imaginary necropolis are emotional trolls instead of existential warriors intent on apprehending life's meaning and purpose -- which just might be an appropriately Nineties take on postmodernist themes.
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