Saturday, March 5, 2011

The KC Four: The Time Machine

The other first production of a play was The Time Machine or Love Among the Eloi by Seattle playwright Edward Mast, presented by Ohlone College of suburban San Francisco. I was told that this re-imagining of the H.G. Wells novel was written years ago but revised for this first staging.

The basic Wells’ story is there: an Edwardian era inventor travels to the far future and finds a beautiful but simple race, the Eloi, only later to discover a separate race of Morlocks for whom the Eloi are literally their lunchmeat. This play focuses mostly on the Eloi, giving them an invented language that’s chiefly about sex.

This imaginative production directed by Tom Blank had a sprawling set that encouraged a very acrobatic young cast. While their physical performances and the invented language itself were mesmerizing for a time, it all got repetitive. This may have been part of the point, but several of the student critics couldn’t get beyond their reaction to the one dimensional nature of this invented world, and how long the illustration of it went on.

The Eloi section was bookended by scenes in the inventor's home, somewhat as in the Wells novel. (It’s moved forward in time a couple of decades into the early 20th century, and the Traveller—as he was known in the novel—is given a name.) The time travel lighting effect itself was dazzling. It was probably a fairly simple computer program but unlike any I’d seen before.

In his re-telling, Mast seems to be playing mostly with ideas about Eden and the Fall, and only someone who already knows Wells’ intent to take the severe class divide of the industrial age to its logical future conclusion is likely to pick up its subtle presence in this production. One such correspondence is interesting—Mast makes the Morlocks literally the mealtime servants of the Eloi, though they are seemingly invisible to the Eloi. Back in his own time and house afterwards, the time traveler is startled when his own “invisible” servant speaks, and he looks at him with a bit of alarm.

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