Time is the Mercy of Eternity
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
April 22, 2008
Deb Margolin calls her new play Time is the Mercy of Eternity a "meditation in four acts"; in a podcast that she recorded with me, Margolin said that she wrote these plays in part to understand the people in them, and why they do the kinds of things they do.
One of these people, in the opening "act," is an anonymous bus driver who became a suicide bomber and now speaks to us from the Afterlife. His monologue, entitled "When They Quiet Down I Start," is a study in desolation: this man has done what he did not out of fervor or faith or anger but simply from the deep desire for quiet and peace. It's an interesting take on a phenomenon that no one can ever really hope to understand from the outside yet we all too often think we know all there is to know about; I like that Margolin begins her meditation by shaking us loose from assumptions we carry with us too carelessly.
Another of these people is a young man who is killing his ex-girlfriend. "The Rich Silk of It," which is the third piece on this program, takes place during the nanoseconds when he fires his gun. Margolin takes us inside his beautiful victim's head and inside some version of the killer's (are we privy to what he is actually thinking, or what she thinks he must be thinking?). Here and throughout Time, the playwright deconstructs her characters' humanity by considering them as collections of body parts; the obsessive and disturbed young man with the gun is particularly fixated on hands:
SHE: He offered me ten million dollars for my hands. He wanted to cut my hands off my arms and pay me for them....I told him: baby, what use would my hands be to you? He said, you touch me, you touch me....It made me think about the way that hands really serve only the one born with them...
The last person we meet, in the eponymous final piece of the evening, is a woman who tells a clerk in a department store that she has just bought the place, and so therefore owns the bed on the selling floor that she has refused to get out off. This vignette caps Margolin's work with an exploration of our desire and need for connection. It's the funniest of a fairly serious quartet.
The people who I most connected with are Clarisse and Larmon, a middle-aged married couple who have just received the remains of their son, a soldier killed at war—the remains consist of a photo of the lower part of one of his legs. "Clarisse and Larmon," the second act of Time, is about grief and its aftermath (which is, hopefully, acceptance); it renders forcefully Margolin's central conceit that every part of us that we take for granted is rich and essential and human (and perhaps there's a larger idea to extrapolate from that).
Six Figures Theatre Company and Purple Man Theater have presented Time in a loving production whose anchor is actress Lisa Kron, funny and quirky as the eccentric woman in the bed and deeply and sympathetically human as Clarisse. Curzon Dobell creates two utterly disparate characters in the Bus Driver and Larman (and his chemistry with Kron, as her husband, is invaluable). Khris Lewin is compelling as the murderous young man of "The Rich Silk of It," and Claire Siebers rounds out the cast as his victim, and also as the saleslady in the department store. Marc Stuart Weitz's direction is perhaps too busy in "The Rich Silk of It," but elsewhere feels simpatico with Margolin's vision. Set designer Kerry Lee Chipman provides a simple but appropriate environment for the piece (that includes a neat surprise).
The title of Margolin's play comes from a poem by William Blake, and the woman in the bed in the final act ponders what this phrase means. I'm not sure she solves that puzzle, and that's appropriate, for the play is all about challenging the obvious stuff that we take for granted in our life—pulling it apart and seeing what each piece is about. It's an intriguing and provocative 75 minutes of poetic theatricality.