“Try to become not a man of success, but try rather to become a man of value.”
– Albert Einstein, as quoted in Life magazine (2 May 1955)
There’s a reason why I’m always open about my connections to the shows and performers I see. I do this because as my writing on this site gets more and more attention – even I’m surprised by the number of people who read it – it’s important for me to be clear about my connections (or lack thereof) to the work I see. I’m as much a part of the Bay Area theatre community as those whose work I see and I honestly believe that honest constructive criticism will make us all better artists. I mention the people I know because it lets everyone reading know that what positive things I say are sincere, and what negative things I say shouldn’t be taken personally (unless a line is crossed, in which case I won’t hold back).
I bring this up because I know a lot of the folks involved in Time Sensitive and once worked in the location where it’s currently being staged. I bring it up because Time Sensitive is one of the best shows I’ve seen in the four-month-old year of 2019. I bring this up because I know a lot of the lesser shows playing in the Bay Area will get the sort of promotion Ragged Wing could only hope for. Mind you, I’m not here to advertise for the show, but if my recommendation means anything then writing on this site may have use after all.
Besides, duality is central to this play. Before we even enter the theatre, the lobby of The Flight Deck is adorned with multiple smooth ice sculptures by artist Carter Brooks, each dripping into a metal base. Further sculptures and ice blocks are found in the theatre proper, hidden amongst designer Jean-François Revon’s rust(-color)ed metal set pieces. Nearly all of the scenes involve the characters splitting into pairs to exacerbate their similarities and differences. Every character has settled into being one thing, but can’t shake the feeling of what it would be like to be another. Duality is crucial to Time Sensitive because the inability to see oneself in another leads to mutual disaster.
The story is about time running out. There’s a clockmaker who keeps a record of personal time the way his devices track literal time. He knows he won’t live long enough to finish his task, so he creates “The Kid” to finish it for him. There’s workaholic Tilly, who has rocketed to the top of her company – just shy of her “Consecutive Executive” superior – but suddenly begins to realize that her biological clock kept ticking when she wasn’t paying attention. There are the poor sisters, the angry Roach and the childlike Penny, who have different reactions to the people working in Tilly’s building. And there’s businessman Bill and construction worker Nick, both who stand on the top floor, but will reach the bottom in radically different ways.
For the most part, Time Sensitive is a condemnation of a world that values material success over personal fulfillment. At the start, Tilly’s business has an opening for new hires, but makes them battle for it like rabid animals. “Be among the select few,” the company promises before making one of them carry stacks of discarded lunch plates like two cardboard towers. “You gotta take it!”, they’re told. “I want that worm. Bird, bird want, want that worm!” The animalistic nature of their competition is made explicit.
And for what? Sure, the higher-ups promise a lifetime of financial happiness, but it’s abundantly clear that none of them are happy. Tilly’s fear that she may have missed her chance to have children only grows worse with the Consecutive Executive’s none-too-subtle implication that Tilly can be replaced, as well as a “sexy” commercial suggesting that Tilly freeze her eggs.
Bill is at the literal and figurative top of his company and is hiring Nick to build a new elevator, but Bill frequently contemplates taking the fast way to the bottom – the really fast way to the bottom. Their success rings hollow as they tow the company line that their lives are worth killing over. No surprise then that Roach aims to do that very thing, should she ever come across someone at the company.
And as the “haves” of the story fail to see the “have nots” closing in, almost no one keeps on an eye on the struggling heart of world (here represented by an actual giant beating heart, designed by prop-maker Lauren Tannous).
Last month, I saw another show about class warfare. That show simultaneously trivialized and sensationalized the fact that a lot of us aren’t born with the same access to necessary resources to help us thrive. Amy’s show is a welcome antidote to that one, exaggerating the class struggle to be played for broad comedy, but keeping sight of the human emotion attached to it. One of the best examples of this is when Tilly’s (Akaina Ghosh) rushed fertility treatments go wrong and she becomes pregnant before our eyes, thanks to Lauren Tannous’ costume work. Despite science having proven that the “biological clock” isn’t nearly as big a deal as we think, women are told to choose between the role of doting mother or successful businesswoman. It’s not enough for Tilly to have it all, she has to have it all now. The final result I won’t reveal here, but it doesn’t end well.
Neither does Nick taking the step that Bill won’t. Neither does Roach finally confronting one of the rich businessmen. Neither does the Clockmaker’s quest to improve through the creation of The Kid. Before this play is over, it doesn’t just get tragic – it gets outright apocalyptic.
The paradox is that does so with an unexpected sense of optimism. After all, the word “apocalypse” comes from the Greek word for “revelation” and we’re guided through this story by an aethereal Greek chorus. They narrate and interact with the characters, issuing dire warnings: “Ice is memory [and] it is melting.” When the story’s climax is over and someone asks what will happen next, the Chorus simply respond, “Change.”
Change isn’t something to be rushed, nor should it be feared outright. It’s inevitable. The characters of this story are people who all desire changes in their lives, but are unwilling to change themselves. And that can be the greatest tragedy of all.
As I end this review, I notice that I’ve been so caught up in recounting its themes that I haven’t said much about the great acting and technical work. (Incidentally, I’m curious as to why such a movement-based piece doesn’t credit a choreographer?) At the end of the show, writer/director Amy Sass mentioned that the thrust stage layout of that performance would “change every night,” offering each audience a new way to experience the same show.
I’ll only be able to see it once, but I’m glad I got that one time. Not only did I get to see artists I know create a work that moved me in a venue I enjoy, but I’m glad I got to see a show that didn’t confuse optimism with pandering.
Time Sensitive is scheduled to run until the 4th of May at The Flight Deck in Oakland.
The show runs roughly 2 hours with a single 15 min. intermission.
For tickets and information, please visit the production’s official site here.