A Concentration Camp Play

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Westrich (left) and McKeever star in The Timekeepers

The Timekeepers, currently in production at the Empire Stage in Ft. Lauderdale, is set in a German concentration camp in 1940 and 1941. A taught, psychological tableau, the three-man cast make it perfectly believable that we are witnessing reality.

The play is essentially about two people who would not normally come into contact learning to co-exist and even at a minor level bonding together. In this case, misery breeds bonding.

The odd couple are a middle-aged Jew and a somewhat younger gay man. Each is in concentration camp stripes, the Jew wearing a yellow triangle, the gay guy wearing pink. That is how the Nazis distinguished between the two, and other colours were used for other minorities. The holocaust was not just a Jewish nightmare. Many thousands survived it. Many millions perished.

In The Timekeepers, the Jew was the foremost horologist in Berlin, and he thought that would keep him safe from Nazi persecution. He instead found himself separated from his family and made to work in a camp doing what he did in the real world- repairing watches. Most of these, however, came from other Jews who had been exterminated. They were destined for the wrists of the Nazis.

As time ticks by the Jew, played by Michael McKeever, finds himself in the same small room as a gay man with a razor wit, played by Mike Westrich. Their lord and master is a Capo played by Matt Stabile. He enters the tiny workroom several times during the play, always a menacing presence.

The Jew learns about the fate of some of his family members from his gay compatriot, whom he teaches the rudiments of watch repair. How could a fellow prisoner gain such knowledge of people elsewhere? He is used for sex by a gay commander of the Nazi camp. All this is left to the viewers’ imagination as the play is set entirely in the workshop.

Speaking of set, congratulations must also go to Michael McClain who devised a set with barbed wire that made ideal use of the small stage.

There are light moments of comic relief. “What time is it when an elephant sits on your watch? Time to get a new watch!”

“All watches are women, all clocks are men,” says the Jew. “Perhaps I’d do better with the clocks,” deadpans the gay guy.

Towards the end of the play, after months learning how to repair watches, the gay man asks the Jew “Am I a horologist?” The Jew replies that is a quarter of one. “That makes me a whore,” he shoots back with a play on the word horologist.

It is all really gallows humour, as each knows he could face extinction any day. How they cope, and what ultimately happens, is well worth seeing.

The Timekeepers by Dan Clancy will be performed at the Empire Stage (1140 N. Flagler St.) until Nov. 24. Visit their website for details: www.empirestage.com

Clifford Cunningham

Clifford Cunningham is a planetary scientist currently affiliated with the National Astronomical Research Institute. He did his PhD work in the history of astronomy at James Cook University, and has undergraduate degrees in science and ancient history from the University of Waterloo. He is the author of 12 books on asteroids and the history of science. In 1999 he appeared on the TV show Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Asteroid 4276 was named in his honour by the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in 1990.

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