My Machine is Powered by Clocks, a new show being developed by Sightline at the New Ohio Theatre's Ice Factory, is a very beautiful, very complicated piece of theater. In just a little more than an hour, My Machine tells four interlocking stories of time travel, some linked by common characters and locales (temporal as well as spatial), and all working together to imagine the ways that achievement of this long-held dream of mankind's might diminish rather than enlarge our species; and by extension, exploring how technology must be used and handled with great care: just because we can do something doesn't mean we always should.
Now, as I said, this all unfolds in about 70 minutes, and is therefore a LOT to take in. To the credit of writer B. Walker Sampson and director Calla Videt, the themes of the work are striking and clear throughout. But the density of the storylines sometimes pulls us back, I think, forcing us to try to process the detail of exactly who is doing what on stage; and likewise some of the (almost always breathtaking) movement sequences are tough to parse, even though we can place them in context within the show. But that's why My Machine is exactly right for Ice Factory, a festival dedicated to development. Kudos to the team here, who are just one of two of this year's six Ice Factory participants who are welcoming reviewers to provide them with some feedback.
The play happens in many different time periods, as befits a work about time travel. One thread concerns a scientist named Halley (after the Comet!), who is the first to perfect time travel and winds up bouncing back and forth through epochs with such frequency that she literally loses track of herself. Another thread is about a guidance counselor who tries to alter the destiny of one of her students after learning how his life is going to turn out. Still another—the most complicated tale told here, by far—begins when a man walks into a bar in 1965 and undertakes a series of journeys backward and forward through time to accomplish something truly singular and remarkable. And the last, which is the most potently evocative, concerns a man on a bus, hundreds of years in the future, reminiscing with his sister and contemplating some of the choices he's made in his life.
The imagination and invention displayed here by Walker and Videt, and their designers (Mary Ellen Stebbins, Jon Cottle, and Megan Lang on lighting; Victoria Crutchfield on video; Grace Laubacher on sets) and choreographers (Rick and Jeff Kuperman), are awe-inspiring. There are visual images and danced/physicalized moments that capture a mood or emotion or idea with real visceral incisiveness. And there are concepts bandied about in the script that jolt and delight as they come into focus. The ensemble, which is comprised of the Kupermans plus Merrie Jane Brackin, Isabel Carey, Melanie Comeau, Tatiana Pavela, and the invaluable Avery Pearson, perform the work splendidly. I am eager to see where these smart, talented artists take this show as they hone it and shape it.