This year’s Ice Factory festival of six new works transforms the New Ohio into a hot-weather time machine (never fear, the AC is cool). The time-warping began at the end of June with That Poor Dream, the Assembly’s update of Dickens’s Great Expectations, which transposes the story to a Metro-North train. This week, The Mad Ones bop back to the grooviest decade, ruminating on 1960s folk-rock culture in Untitled Biopic Project (July 10–13). On the horizon, Built for Collapse’s Red Wednesday (July 24–27) surveys millennia of Iranian history, multimedia-style, while CollaborationTown’s Help Me to Make It (July 17–20) traces the architecture of family life over generations. Anonymous Ensemble’s I Land (July 31–August 3) concludes the chronology-obsessed program by escaping to a timeless isle populated by phantasms.
Appropriately enough, the fest’s most recent offering, last week’s hyperkinetic My Machine Is Powered by Clocks—a SIGHTLINE production, written by B. Walker Sampson and directed by Calla Videt—is a sci-fi dance-theater piece about the perils of temporal tourism.
Sometime in the future, a scientist named Halley Martinson invents a time machine—and things get very complicated. The Time Bureau, a clique of chronological busybodies, tallies the permutations caused by time-tampering. But they can’t resist meddling: One attempts to edit an old flame’s biography so they never meet (or break up); another watches helplessly as her brother repeatedly gets into the same accident; a third zips back to reproduce with himself (the biological specifics are hazy and the whole idea is pretty gross). Meanwhile, Martinson, addled by time-twerking, meanders through history; her more serious symptoms include long monologues and frequently shouting the title of the play.
My Machine proceeds fitfully in jumpy flashbacks and flash-forwards—at first, we’re as discombobulated as Martinson. But the banal storylines don’t reward the effort required to parse them together. The equally busy production alternates between two basic settings: In caffeinated-cuteness mode, performers hurtle around mugging like Pixar characters. When serious themes arrive, so does maudlin meaningfulness—and dancers solemnly twirl and stare. The piece’s insights about infinity could be summed up, stoner-fashion, thusly: “Time travel! Whoa!”
Despite experimental pretensions, My Machine ends up seeking refuge in the hoariest of theatrical pieties about time—fate!—with the cop-out conclusion that some events were just meant to happen. You might leave wishing for a personal time vehicle so you can get that lost hour back.