In steampunk, everything is familiar but rearranged. The same is true of The Clockwork Professor, a world premiere by Maggie Lee presented by Pork Filled Productions (at Theatre Off Jackson through August 3). The result is a frivolous diversion, making for pleasant, well-meaning entertainment.
Lee draws on major steampunk tropes familiar to readers of works such as Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy and Mark Helprin’s Winter’s Tale. The Clockwork Professor’s world is justified by parallel universes (which inevitably entangle), dominated by a desperate fascist state, and driven by rival engineers who create impossible magical machines. Lee’s flights of fantasy remain at low altitude, though, rooted in our contemporary world as Roombas gone wrong and human cloning take prominent places in the plot.
The eponymous engineer of this story is one Professor Seamus Pemberton (Brad Walker) who melodramatically suffers a pair of torments (because steampunk theatre apparently reworks Victorian dramatics as well as aesthetics). The greatest of these is his unexpressed love for this assistant, Matilda (Natea Kang), though he also carries secrets that might drive her from him.