Nestled behind our hearts, its chain embedded between sinew and bone, is a pocketwatch dutifully ticking. Each tick brings us closer to our last breath, and none of us knows when that will be. Well, almost none of us. For those whose so-called “mortal clock” ticks away not beside the heart but in the brain, desperation reigns. So goes Marisa Wegrzyn’s play Hickory Dickory, the second offering in Moxie Theatre’s new season. Set in a suburban Chicago clock shop in two time periods, Hickory Dickory plays with the idea of a mortal clock as a metaphor and as a literal timekeeping device. There’s more subtlety and greater emotional resonance in the metaphor and in how the awareness of life’s fleeting nature inspires sacrifice and love. When the mortal clock is tangible, when it can be held and wound and even surgically removed, Hickory Dickory’s reflections lose much of their elegance.
At Moxie, Jennifer Eve Thorn directs a cast of five in which all but one play dual roles. That would be Samantha Ginn, whose raucous Cari Lee, on account of her broken mortal clock, gets to be 17 years old throughout all 18 years of the story. In ripped jeans and baggy T-shirts and part of the time pregnant, Ginn plays most of Hickory Dickory in fourth gear, but hers is a part with definite license to do so. The others in the ensemble – Jo Anne Glover, Justin Lang, John Anderson and the particularly winning Erin Petersen – bring energy and nuance to their respective dual parts without requiring significant costume or makeup changes. At times the shouting on stage is as loud as an old episode of “Maude,” but in junctures where the cast settles into the melody and depth of Wegrzyn’s words, Hickory Dickory is almost prayerful.
Besides a delightful clock-shop set designed by Jennifer Brawn Gittings, the production relies heavily upon the visual theatrics of a pair of mortal-clock surgeries, complete with meticulously mixed anesthetic concoctions and modest stage blood. Consequently, Hickory Dickory is in every sense a dark comedy. It is neither grim nor moralizing. Its assertion that love trumps the fear of mortality may not be unprecedented, but it is inspiring.
David L. Coddon is a Southern California theater critic.