Clockwatching: Seth Barrish and Eric Paeper in The Timekeepers
By Dan Clancy
Barrow Group Theatre
312 West 36th Street
Together, the words Holocaust and comedy hardly have the ring of, say, borscht and belt. With good reason. Drawing anything but horror from a piece set amid the greatest human rights disaster in history would test the limits of the deftest directorsaudiences go to Holocaust plays expecting to be shocked, not entertained. But this three-man show manages to get laughs while it packs an emotional punch. A Weimar-fabulous homo (Eric Paeper) gets detailed to repair Nazi-pilfered watches with a tightly wound Jewish horologist (Seth Barrish)"What's a whorologist?" the new arrival quips to the nonplussed clockmaker. When it emerges that they're both opera queens, a tentative, adversarial friendship develops. Even as they argue Verdi versus Puccini, they reveal their prejudicessomehow still alive in this hellabout Jews and queers, creating a thumbnail sketch of the psychology of victimhood. Paeper's campy antics steal the show, with Barrish serving as straight man for his barbed repartee. (One has to wonder, though, to what extent the gay stereotypes that garner so many giggles are bits of today's pop culture superimposed on 1940s Germany.) Still, The Timekeepers never allows levity to eclipse tragedy. In fact, the negative space created by humor only gives the Nazis' almost unimaginable cruelty more room to inflict anguish to the conscience.