Guest Blogger Gail Sachson owns Ask Me About Art, offering lectures, tours and program planning.
If I were a theater critic reviewing the play The Timekeepers by Dan Clancey, currently at the Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center for Education and Tolerance, I’d be tempted by soundbites like, “Timekeepers is timeless!” or “Timekeepers is timely!”
The Timekeepers is timeless and timely. The 90 min. one-act play takes place in a locked and guarded workroom of Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp during WWII. The two main characters mark time and kill time while they repair the watches taken from Jewish prisoners as they are led to the gas chambers. The supply is shrinking, and the fear of losing their jobs, which are saving their lives, is growing. Only one watchmaker may be needed.
The premise of the play almost sounds like a dark joke. “Did you hear this one? There was a Jew, a homosexual and a criminal guard (Benjamin Scheer) in a locked workroom in a Nazi Concentration Camp…” It’s not a joke, yet there are many laughs. The homosexual, prisoner #2202, Van (Jeremy W. Smith), is portrayed as a pragmatic and effeminate jokester. His wry sense of humor allows the audience to rest a moment, relax tense muscles and release emotions in the midst of the duo’s rapid fire conversation.
The Jew, prisoner #7064, Benjamin, (Karl Lewis), is distrustful and reticent. You can already imagine the storyline. The two men are thrown together. They clash. Van must learn from Benjamin, who has held the watch repair position, how to do what he lied and said he could do … to be useful to the Nazis and survive. The Jew distrusts the homosexual. The homosexual distrusts the Jew. Van persists with personal conversation. The men eventually bond over their love of opera. They sing. They laugh. They rehearse a song for a Red Cross visit, which never happens. Hopes are dashed, they clash again. They hate. And then … welll … I’m not giving away the emotional ending. But let it be said that the audience in the packed house on opening night was visibly moved. Grown men wiped away tears. Women sniffled into tissues and wiped red eyes long after the standing ovation.
The Timekeepers, directed by Joe Watts, has made the Dallas Holocaust Museum the newest way off Broadway theater venue. The moveable chairs in the small meeting room and the makeshift stage add to the spontaneity and honesty of the production. The display of photographs of local Holocaust survivors lining the walls adds to the play’s spirituality and the reality of the imagined scenes.
The play may be of another time, when hate and distrust of “the other” overtook man’s reason. Then again, it may be of our time, with The Timekeepers warning, “It’s just a matter of time.”
The Timekeepers continues through Saturday, with talkbacks following each performances.