Despite a long and talky first act, “The Fastest Clock in the Universe” eventually reveals a viciously dark comic edge, culminating in a decidedly ominous birthday party. In the wake of Jez Butterworth’s “Mojo” and Mike Leigh’s “Goose Pimples,” British playwright Philip Ridley has devised another blend of ghoulish humor and zany characterizations.
Cougar Glass (David Cale) is the muscular roommate and, apparently, occasional lover of Captain Tock (David Gale), a prissy proprietor of an antique shop. (Don’t dare to address it as a junk shop.) Cougar, who harbors a fear of clocks and is obsessed with his fading youth, is celebrating his 19th birthday. (Don’t dare mention that he is really turning 30.)
Captain Tock, who waits on Cougar hand and foot, also has a few weird tics. A precious collection of stuffed crows, blackbirds and miniature winged statuary line the walls of his grimy East London flat. With an obvious nod to the avian fantasies of Poe and Hitchcock, the Captain flaps his arms with wild abandon when a flock of birds swoops into the adjacent alley.
The party guests include Sherbet Gravel (Ella Mae McNulty), an impressionable and chatty pregnant girl, and her well-scrubbed boyfriend, Foxtrot Darling (Joey Kern).
From the moment the predatory Cougar is handed a lethal-looking kitchen knife to cut his birthday cake, a bloodbath appears inevitable. And despite the tiresome bitchery of the first act, the comedy eventually sets a relentless course toward butchery.
The broadly cartooned characters are acted with an infectious silliness. Cale’s swishy party host, Kern’s hapless innocent and Poor’s brooding and malevolent birthday boy score effectively. Jeanette Landis has a funny moment as a boozy and cronish landlady, and McNulty flaps her sparkly eyelids with a winsome innocence.
Director Jo Bonney has grasped the behavioral absurdities of Ridley’s characters and set them against the always menacing tone and temper of the play. An atmospheric asset is the dingy set, with its looming birds and a shadowy light design.