For playwright Dan Clancy, one of the most rewarding experiences of his career was when an Israeli teenager remarked, “We study the Holocaust because we must remember this, but I never knew homosexuals suffered like my people.” The teen had just seen a production of Clancy’s The Timekeepers in an Israeli settlement in the frontier near the Lebanese border.

Now South Florida audiences will have an opportunity to weigh in on the thought-provoking play Holocaust that has been performed in 17 countries—including Germany and Austria—when Island City Stage opens its 2013-14 season with the regional premiere at Empire Stage, Oct. 26.

Directed by Island City’s Associate Artistic Director Michael Leeds, Clancy’s play explores the unfolding relationship of an introverted Jewish prisoner who keeps himself alive in the concentration camp by repairing watches and an extroverted gay hustler willing to do whatever it takes to survive.

Both men find they have knowledge that can help the other and a mutual love of opera brings them together as they prepare for a visit from the Red Cross that they can only hope will deliver them; however, their underlying anti–Semitic and anti-gay prejudices threaten the partnership until an operatic ending allows their humanity to triumph over evil.

Following a production in Germany, Clancy learned the actor who portrayed the watchmaker’s father was a former SS officer during World War II.

“He told me he’d never admitted it publicly, but after the war, all the hatred that was inside him was brought back into our house,” Clancy recalled. “It was obviously very painful for him. Whether the play is a good play or a bad play, it leads to discussion.”

One shocking historical note Clancy discovered during his research was that many of the gay prisoners were either re-incarcerated after the war because homosexuality was still illegal or too ashamed to talk about their experiences in the concentration camps.

“The thread through all my work deals with prejudice, being a gay man and a victim of prejudice myself,” explained Clancy, who now splits his time between Fire Island and South Florida with his longtime partner. Last winter, his play, Proposition 8, received a critically acclaimed reading at Lynn University.

Clancy got his start writing plays years ago while teaching drama at a New York City area middle school. Because so few age appropriate plays were available at the time, he would write his own and then cast his students.

Not all of Clancy’s mature works are dark. The Timekeepers also features moments of humor and poignant joy. He applauds Island City Stage for opening its season with the challenging work.

“It’s brave of them….It’s wonderful that (Artistic Director) Andy Rogow and the company have decided to take a chance with this,” said Clancy.

“This is a key part of Island City Stage’s mission. We are interested in sharing our LGBT history with the larger community and this is such an important piece that people are simply not aware of,” said Rogow.

If You Go

The TimekeepersBy Dan Clancy

Island City Stage at Empire Stage, 1140 N. Flagler Dr., Fort Lauderdale

Oct. 26 – Nov. 24

Thursdays – Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 5 p.m.

Tickets $30 at JW Arnold