The Twin Beach Players have had a world premiere on their hands over the past few weeks – “The Time Machine” by Mark Scharf, based on the science-fiction novel by H.G. Wells. Wells was an idealistic socialist, the man who wrote “A Modern Utopia,” among the many other works of this prolific author. Yet the distant future into which the Time Machine catapults the Time Traveller is a dystopia, though this character had “jump[ed] at the idea of a social paradise,” as Wells writes in “The Time Machine.” Humans are reduced to livestock and hunted down and eaten by the Morlocks, alien-like creatures who dwell in tunnels below the earth. When the Time Traveller’s Machine is stolen, it begins to look as if he must live out his life in this dismal, primitive place.
In short, local playwright Mark Scharf and the Twin Beach Players creatively and effectively transport Well’s Time Machine to ‘new dimensions in time and space for a story of the future,’ as a vintage science fiction program used to announce.
There is something hinting of didacticism in the original novel, for the humans on the earth had ruled over the Morlocks as second class citizens. A revolution of some sort then put the lower class (those in tunnels) in charge and the upper class (those on solid earth) at their mercy. Yet when I interviewed Mr Scharf, he told me that he did not want to emphasize the social points, but rather make an entertaining play for all ages. That he did, for some fun scenes include what Wells could not have known: the Time Traveller stops in on the 1950’s and meets “Happy Days”-style greasers.
Next he ventures to the 1960’s, where he encounters flower children. Some linguistic fun involving slang ensues: The 1950’s girl in poodle skirt and bobby socks calls the Time Traveller “real square,” which he takes as a compliment. The 1960’s couple has the Time Traveller befuddled with phrases such as “far out” and “try some mushrooms.” There is a brief stop-over in our year of 2018, when the Time Traveller finds everyone engrossed in smart phones to the exclusion all else. The original novel takes place in Britain, but Baltimore native Scharf sets it in Maryland, with amusing local references.
While humor abounds, there are also scary moments which may be very intense for children. The Morlocks grunt and scowl and crawl among the audience, then lift human characters on stage here and there to be eaten. Speaking of the stage, there are some interesting props – many clocks, for instance, representing time and its fluidity. The Time Machine itself is presented in retro-futurism fashion: glowing coils, brass, and nickel plate. Simple but very effective lighting is used for the Time Machine and for the transitions in time which are so crucial to the play.
Harvey Williams is a standout performer as the Time Traveller, at times humorous, earnest, and otherwise conveying the emotions of the moment. He alone holds much of the show through monologues, as the Morlocks and the humans of the future are nearly mute. Editor Thompson as played by Ellen Di Lorio is also in excellent form; comic and caring at alternate points, she is the character most in tune with the Time Traveller’s project. Weena, portrayed by Jonie McCright, is worthy of special mention, as this human character of the far-off future elicits are sympathy due to her range of human emotions: friendship, love, humor, and fear. All are enacted convincingly.
The direction by Regan Garnett is excellent, making full use of the unusual gymnasium space in which the Twin Beach Players operate in a production which is hardly minimalist but not overfilled with props.
In short, local playwright Mark Scharf and the Twin Beach Players creatively and effectively transport Well’s Time Machine to “new dimensions in time and space for a story of the future,” as a vintage science fiction program used to announce. This production deserves itself to travel in the near future to other venues, so that it may be enjoyed by many more audiences who might want to speculate about the future and – in tribute to Wells – ruminate on social life in the present. As Wells writes in “The Time Machine:” “Take it as a lie—or a prophecy.”
“The Time Machine” played at the Twin Beach Players through October 28, 2018. For information about future productions, click here.