Where's Hillary Clinton when you need her? I'm just back from Time After Time at Point Park Conservatory Theatre, and the show is so conflicted and obstructed -- so at war with itself -- that only a seasoned diplomat could untangle it.
Based on a novel by Karl Alexander that also inspired a 1979 film, Time After Time imagines H.G. Wells inventing a time machine that Jack the Ripper uses to escape into modern-day America ... with Wells in hot pursuit. It's a highly regarded movie that makes interesting use of the Ripper case's most famous facet: The killings just stopped, and the murderer was never discovered.
Lyricist/book-writer Stephen Cole and composer Jeffrey Saver have been working on the show since at least 2002, and they still haven't quite licked it. Saver's score is in constant battle with forward momentum. Nearly every time physical peril is at hand, his characters sit down and sing love ballads to each other ... and poof! goes dramatic tension.
Cole's struggle as a book writer, on the other hand, is with plot. Very often, logic simply evaporates and characters do insanely ludicrous things for no other reason than if they didn't, the show would simply stop.
As to the actual production, directed by Gabriel Barre: Saver's score is a standard breezy contemporary musical, but Barre treats it like a dark, hard-edged look at dystopia. Cole's book cries out for a director who'll make it make sense, but Barre lets the dramaturgical chips fall where they may. At no point did I feel director, writer and composer moving as one.
Speaking of non-movement, here comes Stephanie Mayer-Staley and her set. If somebody offered me a million bucks and Gerard Butler's room key to design a set specifically to seize up a musical, to drain it of all rhythm and flow, I still couldn't have come up with anything as aggressively "non-musical" as this. I know (as does anyone who's seen a Playhouse show in the past five years) that Mayer-Staley sure does like big, flat, geometric shapes ... but really, girlfriend, it's time to move on.
With a brief happy mention of the three leads (Michael Campayno, John Wascavage and Taylor Chalker) let me close out with a silent prayer for theatrical peace in our time.
Time After Time continues through March 14. Pittsburgh Playhouse, 222 Craft Ave., Oakland. 412-621-4445 or www.pittsburghplayhouse.com