Blast from the past takes on many connotations in Eclectic Full Contact Theatre's production of The Secret of the Biological Clock, written by Andie Arthur. Centering on one half of a famous teen detective duo, the legendary Eleanor Dawson (Kelly Levander), has shaken off her former days of investigating local whodunits---or so she claims. She's since moved back to her hometown with her former partner's brother aka husband in tow, and encountering a not so subtle fan who lingers on her every word. The call is alluring, and Eleanor can't help but be sucked back into her hometown hi-jinx once more, one carefully planted clue at a time.
From the outset, this mystery is carried and accelerates in investment from its cast of dynamic women. Levander balances obligation to commitments of Eleanor's past and present selves with as much success as you could suspect, with biting humor and enjoyable exasperation. Elise Soeder (Ellie Dawson aka young Eleanor) loosens layers of Eleanor's vulnerability creating a slow burn that perfectly emulates all the hopes and fears wrestled up in being a young woman on the precipice of change. Marci Portugal (Alice Garcia) has a humorous turn or two as a much needed source of grounding reality as Eleanor's best friend. And gushing, overexcited fan, Jasmine (Aziza Macklin), has an unexpected, but thrilling trajectory from spunky, charming, smart alleck to emphatic, complicated underdog.
Directed by Eclectic Full Contact Theatre Artistic Director Katherine Seigel, the show runs closer to two hours with no intermission, but its pacing is timed well enough that it flies by. Its exposition is set up rather quickly and once the case gets to cracking, it's hard to resist the curiosities held within. Has Eleanor returned home only to solve the disappearance of her childhood co-conspirator, Robert? Is Jasmine merely an eager fan or does she have more invested in this case than she lets on? Is Robert alive after all, or has that hope been a figment of imagination for this group to hold on to?
The play's premise holds a lot of potential, but its delivery vacillates in being fully unlocked. The Secret of the Biological Clock initially feels like a terrific spin on teen detective tales for young audiences. Its zany energy, pop-up book like introductions and transitions, and moments in its framework would solidify it as a delightful success in TYA territory. The feeling doesn't sink in until far later of viewing this as a coming of age story about Eleanor's journey. The show feels like Eleanor has to fight for this to be her story instead of Robert's or Jasmine's. The narrative eventually pivots to her reigning as protagonist, but in this struggle it leads to confusion and a lack of clarity of who exactly the story is meant to center on and for whom it would best serve.
The show's resolution answers its intended questions, but leaves its larger characterization issues unexamined. Puppy-eyed dog Peter (Mark Tacderas), Eleanor's husband, presents blatant sketchiness in not only profiting off of publishing her and Robert's adventures, but also showing little sympathy in wanting to aid in the search for truth regarding his brother's disappearance. Alice is meant to be Eleanor's closest friend besides Robert, but it often feels like she chastises her with the concern of an observant outsider, not a deep confidant. And without giving too many clues away, the title is a mere tease of Eleanor's current predicament without any resolve, although her other events are far more gripping to watch.
The Secret of the Biological Clock is a bountiful blend of nostalgia that's playful yet puzzling. It strides most confidently when Eleanor is forced to reckon with her past through joustful verbal sparring with Jasmine and flashbacks of her hay days with Robert. It harbors on success in its inconsistent genre and leaving question marks on characters that should be resolved. This mystery currently playing at the Athenaeum Theatre will leave you stumped with its reveals, but soothed by its poignant performances.