March 13th, 2011

La Loge

American Clock

We journeyed out to Brooklyn today, to the Brave new World Repertory Theater at the Brooklyn Lyceum, where we saw a truly interstitial vaudeville/documentary/comic/musical/drama called The American Clock.

What to say about it?  It's an Arthur Miller play about the Great Depression, based on Studs Terkel's Hard Times.  It's got a central narrative that concerns the fall of a Brooklyn Jewish family from a big apartment with a view of the Manhattan skyline and a chauffeur and diamond bracelets to a row house with the mortgage 9 months overdue and everything hocked or sold, including the piano.  It's got secondary narratives--about their son, his friends, a farmer from Iowa who lost his place to the bank, a Communist organizer, a former shoe-shine boy who hits the rails, the president of General Electric, and a Wall Street tycoon who narrates the course of the crash and burn of the economy.  It's got a marathon dance (or at least 5 minutes of one) and a card-game around the kitchen table and a blues singer and some mighty fine tunes.  It's got scenes and monologues and choruses and solos and people bursting into song in the middle of a scene.  It's got slides of photographs of the actual Great Depression, low-budget but historically sensitive costumes, and a great, (if somewhat cold and drafty) playing space that gives every member of the huge (23 member) cast enough room to move and emote in.

It made me laugh and it made me cry, and it made me want to tie up every Republican in the country and force them to sit through it.  Twice.

We saw it with friends.  One of the joys of going to the theater with friends is talking it all over afterwards.  But at dinner, we found ourselves talking about everything but.  I still can't find much useful to say about it, and I'm not sure why.   The image that sticks with me, for all it's worth, is Robertson the banker's description of looking out the window of his Riverside Drive apartment onto the cardboard shantytown in Riverside Park, the fires and lanterns of the homeless and jobless burning all through the long, cold winter nights.

The run is about over, sadly, and in these economic times, with a cast as huge as this, it's not going to hit a big-time theater any time soon.  In 1991, there was a made for cable movie.  See it if you can.  Read it if you can't.  It's a wonderful play.