Brian Hinds, Remy Sisk, Trystan Bright-Hadley, & Megan Adair in The Fastest Clock in the Universe. Photo: Richard McGrew.
The Fastest Clock in the Universe
By Philip Ridley
Directed by Tony Prince
Review by Keith Waits
Entire contents copyright © 2018 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
In a rough East London flat, Cougar Glass (Remy Sisk) sits nearly naked under a sunlamp, implacable behind sunglasses, drinking beer and smoking a cigarette. As his partner, Captain Tock (Brian Hinds) talks incessantly while setting up for Cougar’s “19th” birthday party, the sleek narcissist remains unmoved, waited on by the Captain like a Royal Prince.
The first act is talky and slow but consistently hints at underlying perversities. As Captain plucks grey hairs from Cougar’s head, it becomes clear that he is long past 19, and that the birthday celebrations are more frequent than once a year, and that a 15-year old boy invited to the “party” may be in for more than he bargained for. There is a lot of information being dropped, but little happens.
But if Act One is preamble, Act Two is a clenched fist ready to land a brutal punch. Just before intermission, the boy, Foxtrot Darling (Trystan Bright-Hadley), arrives, but with his pregnant 17-year old girlfriend, Sherbet Gravel (Megan Adair) in tow. While he is a clean-cut kid, she is a black-clad, shadow-eyed force of nature whose gregarious Goth presence drives Cougar into a barely restrained fury.
Philip Ridley’s play was considered shocking in 1992, and it is still not for the faint of heart. The danger is palpable and the risk fully realized with bracing acts of violence. The time spent witnessing Captain and Cougar’s twisted co-dependent relationship starts to feel deeply frustrating until the curious dynamic reaches a moment of crisis which can only be defused by elderly yet formidable landlady Cheetah Bee (Laurene Scalf).
Fastest Clock is strange and challenging theatre. Highly original and confrontational for the audience, it rides a razor’s edge and brooks no compromise. Ridley’s world is ripe with aberrant psychology and the potential for hyper-violence, a slightly surreal landscape filled with aviary context. The building Captain and Cougar occupy is an abandoned factory which houses a large population of birds below them, and the Captain has filled the flat with bird statues. At one point when he is telling a story about an encounter with a bird, Foxtrot and Sherbet provide a hilarious cacophony of bird calls. It is a choice example of the singular absurdity that Ridley brings to his storytelling.
Remy Sisk is a familiar face from many musicals and comedies produced by Acting Against Cancer, of which he is a co-founder, Pandora Productions, and others, and he is always engaging, but he is an actor due for a risky, challenging turn, and this is it. He is perfectly cast as Cougar, with exactly the right physical presence, but the level of charismatic psychopathy he expresses is startling. He also makes the most of Cougar’s long, long stretches of silence, investing the character with posture and gesture that arguably say more than any of his dialogue. He spends much of the time seething behind dark glasses, with each moment they are removed a fully exploited opportunity to connect with the audience the depths of his depravity.
Brian Hinds is also such a good choice for Captain, and one of my thoughts watching this play is that director Tony Prince found the absolute best people from the local talent pool to play these characters. Captain is older than Cougar, and there is a clear underlying sense of desperation in trying to hold onto the beautiful young man. He dotes on him like a mother, even while he longs for a hard-won intimacy. Hinds captures all of this with ease.
Megan Adair takes charge of the stage from the moment she enters. The script demands it, and Adair obviously relishes it. It’s difficult to imagine many roles that embrace going so over-the-top with such purpose. The character has a motivation that she holds back from revealing until the tension is thick enough to cut with the knife that Cougar brandishes all through the second half of the play. Adair’s performance is smart as hell and visceral as a kick in the gut.
Foxtrot, and take a moment to consider the uniquely evocative names Ridley gives his people, is perhaps a little less developed, with his chief task registering the conflicting attractions he feels for Cougar and Sherbet, but Trystan Bright-Hadley admirably holds his own in this heady, powerful ensemble, which is punctuated by Laurene Scalf’s dead on perfect reading of the no-nonsense Cheetah Bee. Even though she enters stooped over two walking sticks, and peering through oversize, thick-lensed glasses, her brief time onstage is impactful, and Scalf understands just how to play it.
Watching this production, I had a thought, which I have had with some other local productions, that pound for pound, this is as good as any production at Actors Theatre, and maybe better than some at that esteemed company. The set by Karl E. Anderson, was stunning and deeply evocative, the lighting by Keith Kimmel is called upon to play a key role in the action beyond just lighting actors’ faces, and delivers in good measure, and Shane Estes’ costumes are just perfect.
In the final moments, Ridley plays out his denouement with some slight disregard for the reality of time, with some action transpiring offstage in mere moments that would have practically taken longer, but I’m glad he didn’t manufacture some useless business just for that reason, and perhaps it is even part of the significance in a play in which the very presence of a clock is an egregious offense.
To be certain, The Fastest Clock in the Universe is tough stuff, but for me, this kind of fearless and original theatre is a very welcome addition to the calendar. If what you value is seeing some of the finest talents in Louisville pushed to do some of their strongest work, then this is a play you need to see.
The Fastest Clock in the Universe
|May 24, 25, 26, 31, June 1, & 2 @ 7:30 p.m
May 27 & June 3 at 2:00 p.m.Tickets: $20 in advance, $22 at door
The Liminal Playhouse
At The Henry Clay Theatre
604 South Third Street
Louisville, KY 40203
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, where he is Managing Editor of their Artebella blog, and host of LVA’s Artebella On The Radio on WXOX-FM 97.1/ ARTxFM.com. But spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.