Photo by Jim VolzOwing more than a little to the episodic structure of Clifford Odets' WaitingforLeftyas well as journalist Studs Terkel's book about the Great Depression, HardTimes,the late playwright Arthur Miller's TheAmericanClockis a riveting piece of theater. Its epic two-and-a-half-hour-plus length and its dozens of brief scenes with more than 40 characters is so vast in scope and ambition that it serves not only as an entertainment piece, but also as history lesson, radical political manifesto and warning.
Joseph Arnold's skillful direction blends the tragedy and tenderness seamlessly with live versions of the often-optimistic period music of the time—"We're In the Money," for one—allowing it to comment gently on the action without condescending to irony. Fiercely intimate and deeply humanist, scenes come and go, building to no particular climax, but they offer several overwhelming highlights: a young man (Kevin McClain-Horn, tender and funny) romances his landlord's daughter (Sarah Sumner) to score free rent and ends up falling in love. An unemployed father (James R. Williams) begs a quarter from his working son so he can get to a job interview. A union organizer (Autumn Nicole Hymes) succinctly puts a nasty civil servant in her place. A woman (Misty Coy) seals up her house in the middle of summer to keep bill collectors at bay. A Socialist (David Pintado) converses with a young prostitute (Meagan Holder) about the upcoming revolution. The neighbors of a farm being foreclosed rally to lynch the judge (Tim H.S. Banning, great in several very different roles) putting the land up for auction. The head of General Electric (Steven Gabriel Josefson) decides to stop raping small businesses and quits for a better life.
Like novelist E.L. Doctorow's Ragtime,Miller's play aggressively holds a mirror to the past that reflects our present and, presciently, our future. We watch as people's illusions about the stock market explode and they're forced to scramble to make ends meet, banks close, hopelessness drives some to suicide, and homelessness grows rampant. Despite having been written in the greed-is-good early '80s, it's impossible to view AmericanClockand not wonder if Miller also had a clairvoyant's talent for looking into the years and decades to come.
THE AMERICAN CLOCK AT THE LITTLE THEATRE, CAL STATE FULLERTON PERFORMING ARTS CENTER, 800 N. STATE COLLEGE BLVD., FULLERTON, (714) 278-3371. FRI., 8 P.M.; SAT., 2 & 8 P.M.; SUN., 2 & 6:30 P.M. THROUGH MARCH 6. $7-$9.