08 Fringe: “The Time Machine”

Kent Livingston and friend in “The Time Machine”

On the second Friday night of the 2008 Indianapolis Fringe Festival, I returned refreshed from a day off from reviewing.  I parked at the south end of Mass. Ave., near the American Cabaret Theatre, because my first show of the evening was The Arden Theatre’s quaint presentation of the Children’s Theatre Institute’s The Time Machine.” 

Charmaine Spencer adapted the original novella by H.G. Wells for CTI. Ty Stover of the Arden Theatre created additional material for this production and directed it.  He no longer works for CTI, but is fulfilling a prior commitment to them by directing and presenting this Fringe show.

If you saw Arden’s Fringe show last year, “Theatre of the Living Dead: Double Feature,” you may have gone this year to “The Time Machine” expecting more zombies.  However, it is not that kind of show.

Stover bills it as a “family-friendly show,” which it is, but I don’t know if the pacing of it is brisk enough to keep modern children’s attention. 

On the other hand, I went, and I know of several other adults who went, because we are interested in science fiction in general and maybe Wells and/or time travel in particular.  The show uses odd, life-sized child puppets; silhouettes and small strobe lights behind scrims; monster masks; and other elements that give it a child-like, home-made quality that may or may not appeal to adults.

Personally, I was charmed by the old-fashioned feeling of this show in spite of its flaws.

It also made me want to read H.G. Wells’ novella.  I have often seen it on the shelf at my public library; it wouldn’t take longer than an afternoon to read.  And now I am curious about how much the book and this show differ.

In the show, a butler named Wentworth (Jameson App) appears on stage between two panels that have been painted in subtle browns and creams to look like a Victorian laboratory.  (The program does not say who is responsible for these panels or for the set design.)

The butler seems to be welcoming various whiny gentleman to his master’s house for a demonstration of the master’s time machine.  We only hear their voices as recordings. 

The master of the house, also known as The Traveler (Kent Livingston) appears, apparently just back from a voyage through time.  However, he can’t linger.  He hands his trip journal to Wentworth to read aloud to the guests, but he says that he is now going to set his machine to visit the year 80902.  A moment later, he’s gone.

Wentworth begins reading aloud.  He also unhooks and folds up a canvas backdrop that has been part of the set up to this point.  This reveals an idyllic, garden-like Future, where the Traveler has just landed.

Now the Traveler takes over speaking the story and Wentworth continues “reading” it by manipulating puppets that represent the people of the future. 

In the photo above, the puppet looks much more artistically fashioned than it did from my seat in the audience during the show.  All of the puppets reminded me of the mannequins that used to be in the window of the Ben Franklin store in my town when I was growing up.  They seemed worn out even then.  Wentworth manipulates them by putting one of his hands on the back of the head and the other on the back of the puppet’s hand, like holding a doll.

Wentworth also, a bit later in the show, appears wearing a ghastly mask with long, grey hair, to represent the other people of the future, the Morlachs, who all live underground amidst the bones of their victims.  I admired Jameson App’s ability to stay in character as Wentworth while enacting all of these other elements in his master’s story.

Kent Livingston is funny as the fussy, obtuse, British Traveler, folding his jacket before jumping in a lake off stage to rescue a drowning girl, and making ridiculous assumptions based on what he knows of life – and classes of people – in his own time. 

I left the theatre singing along with the post-show music: “Don’t know much about history, don’t know much of geography, but I do know that I love you, and I know that if you loved me, too, what a wonderful world this would be…”

And pondering Well’s assertion that “There is no time.”

Hope Baugh – www.IndyTheatreHabit.com

P.S. – Deck Manager for this show is Dane Rogers.  Sound operator is Matt Cunningham from the American Cabaret Theatre staff.  Original sound design for CTI was by Andrew Hobson.  Arden sound design by Ty Stover.  Lighting design by Bernie Killian and Ty Stover.  The Arden Theatre also has a MySpace page.

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