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City Theatre's 'Clockmaker' a perfect show for live theater

| Thursday, Jan. 28, 2010

What director Tracy Brigden likes best about "The Clockmaker" is that it's highly unlikely to be showing soon at a multiplex or even an art-house cinema near you.

Written by Stephen Massicotte, who wrote "Mary's Wedding" that City Theatre produced last April, "The Clockmaker" might best be described as a metaphysical murder mystery wrapped around a love story about a lonely clockmaker, an abused woman, her violent husband and a broken cuckoo clock.

The play is in previews for a Friday night opening on the mainstage at City Theatre on the South Side.

"To me, there's always something special about a play that's meant to be a play, a play that's meant for live theater," says Brigden, the artistic director at City Theatre and the director of the production. "It's not just great characters and plot, but magical moments -- especially the emotional moments -- that plays better in our kind of drama and does not translate as well to film."

Brigden says the play dazzled her when she read it while choosing the scripts for the company's 2009-10 season.

"I like plays that embrace the drama and force the audience to take a leap," says Brigden, who explains that some locales are deliberately vague. "It makes you laugh. It makes you cry. Plays like that, I think, are a rare thing. ... The trend (for playwrights) is to go back to the kitchen-sink drama."

Brigden liked the play so much she decided not only to put it on the season schedule, but also to direct it.

"I have the privilege to choose what I direct, and this season, I chose three very different plays," she explains. "'Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde" (October 2009) was epic, Victorian and had a big sweep. 'Shooting Star' (begins April 10) is realistic. 'The Clockmaker' is this little, strange jewel that has not been seen before. I loved the play, and it was a nice fit in the flavors I was putting together for the whole season."

Brigden also chose "The Clockmaker" because she thought the part of Frieda would be perfect for Tami Dixon who had earlier performed at City Theatre in "A Marriage Minuet," "Missionary Position" and "The Muckle."

To play Frieda's husband Adolphus, Brigden chose Joel Ripka, who played the murderer Raskolnikov in Pittsburgh Irish & Classical Theatre's "Crime and Punishment" last fall and John, the benign but alcoholic lawyer, in "Harry's Friendly Service" with the Pittsburgh Public Theater last June.

Former Pittsburgher turned New York actor Harry Bouvy was tapped to play the clockmaker Heinrich Mann.

Daryll Heysham, who plays the mysterious Pierre, played the shady Phil Romano in The Rep production of "That Championship Season" at the Pittsburgh Playhouse last fall, as well as a threatening mobster in "Harry's Friendly Service."

Scenic designer Jeff Cowie will be aided by lighting designer Andrew David Ostrowski in creating a set that moves between Frieda and Adolphus' home, Heinrich Mann's clock shop and several locations that are loosely and mysteriously defined.

Rain, a river, a giant lever and an equally oversized filing cabinet all play their parts as the story reveals itself to the audience. "It becomes magic in a fable-like way," she says.

Clocks also play a large part in the drama and its subtext. Some are whimsical and designed to represent a barn, a circus and Christmas. "They're just fun," Brigden says.

Brigden initially considered buying the clocks that had been used in an earlier production at Alberta Theatre Projects in Calgary, Canada.

But that production had a different vision. Instead, the clocks on the City Theatre stage are the collaborative effort between Cowie and properties master Louise Phetteplace.

As the production headed into previews last week, Brigden said the challenges of creating the proper world for "The Clockmaker" largely have been overcome.

"Our biggest challenge now is getting the cuckoo to work on cue," she says.

Additional Information:

'The Clockmaker'

Produced by: City Theatre Company

When: Through Feb. 14 with performances at 7 p.m. Tuesdays, 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Fridays, 5:30 and 9 p.m. Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays

Admission: $23-$48, $17 for students and those 25 or younger in advance or those 60 and older from two hours before showtime.

Where: City Theatre, 1300 Bingham St., South Side

Details: 412-431-2489 or Web site

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