By Donalevan Maines
A Jewish watchmaker who feels he’s too prominent for the Nazis to arrest. A foxy homosexual who thinks he can outsmart the sons of bitches. Yet here they are, corralled in cramped quarters of a concentration camp, and we’re expected to believe they can become friends, in a hell where you dare not trust anyone?It takes a play as smartly crafted as, well, a Swiss watch to make this premise plausible, but Joe Watts’ staging of Dan Clancy’s The Timekeepers does just that at Holocaust Museum Houston. The production also soars with two heartbreaking performances, and arias that punctuate the operatic emotions that bind the horologist and the whore.At rise, it’s 1940 and Berlin watchmaker Benjamin is kept alive by the Nazis, given the job of repairing watches confiscated from fellow prisoners at Sachsenhausen. Except for interruptions by his boorish capo, or guard, who wears the green triangle of a German criminal, Benjamin is left alone to muse about the fate of his family.Benjamin’s space is turned upside down by the arrival of Hans, a high-strung homosexual who disgusts Benjamin to no end. Hans has prostituted himself into the relative safety of the watch repair shop by becoming the punk of another capo. But he knows he won’t last long unless Benjamin teaches him how to fix watches. Quite naturally, Benjamin rebuffs Hans’ desperate attempts to insinuate himself into Benjamin’s world, until Hans convinces Benjamin that his capo daddy can find out what has happened to Benjamin’s wife and son and small daughter. They also share a love of opera, although their disparate tastes create debates, some of which provide comic relief among mounting tension. The Timekeepers is tough stuff, owing some of its accessibility to one’s previous enjoyment of Kiss of the Spider Woman and Bent, and in a more chilling way, Sophie’s Choice.As the capo, Brandon Osborn is effective, and his presence underscores the insanity of how Hitler ranked his victims by class and perception of their worth.
Taavi Mark as Benjamin displays exceptional skill in allowing Hans to break through his shell. Finally, Lance Marshall is ridiculously phenomenal as Hans. His million-dollar smile turns in anguish to crocodile tears as Hans’ hope gives way to the reality of the gay Holocaust.
The Timekeepers is provocative and thought-provoking, and the more one ponders it, the more profound it seems to be. This production is something to be savored and discussed.
The final two performances of Holocaust Museum Houston and Joe Watts’ Theatre New West production of The Timekeepers in the museum’s Herzstein Theater at the Morgan Family Center, 5401 Caroline St. in Houston’s Museum District, will be at 7:30 p.m., Thursday, May 21, and at 8 p.m., Saturday, May 23. Tickets are $20 each. Reservations can be made by calling Theatre New West at 713/522-2204. For more information about the museum, call 713/942-8000 or visit www.hmh.org. ?