Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Jose/Silicon Valley

Dragon Productions Theatre Company
Review by Eddie Reynolds

Also see Eddie's review of Admissions

Zoe Lytle, Troy Johnson, Allie Bailey, and Sarah Haas
Photo by Lance Huntley
The first thing we hear is a heart-throbbing tick-tock that easily sounds nothing short of foreboding and chilling. With a warning like that, we should not be surprised that the play to follow is one in which life is often viewed in terms how many minutes are left on the clock before our time runs out.

In the imagination of playwright Marisa Wegrzyn, the so-called "mortal clock" is a pocket watch every human carries with them—one whose chain is wrapped around our hearts, with our death date and time engraved within. A swirling mixture of mystery, science fiction, fantasy, magical reality, and even dark comedy, Hickorydickory dares us to contemplate what we would do if we knew the exact minute we will die and whom, if anyone, we would we tell. Further, this 2009 Wasserstein Prize-winning script, now in its Bay Area premiere at Dragon Productions Theatre Company, challenges us to consider what "tethered by love" really means and what relationships we might take time off our mortal clock and transfer to someone else. All these heavy questions come at a price, however—in this case a play that is three hours in length (with two ten-minute intermissions) and one that flows at times at a pace much slower that the tick-tick-tick of a clock.

Scenic designer Tom Shamrell has created in Dragon's intimate, two-cornered stage the indoor/outdoor setting of Jimmy's clock and watch repair shop, with multiple clocks of all sizes hanging about and a lovely bench sitting outdoors within sight of Jimmy's work counter. Jimmy is puzzled why his daughter Dale is so unexcited about her upcoming eighteenth birthday—even to the point of not wanting something like a new car as a special gift. Dale's loving stepmother Kate and he are also upset that, suddenly, the soon-to-graduate, A-student Dale now does not want to go to college. Even we become suspicious of what is going on when later Jimmy's young and handsome Irish clerk Rowen gently suggests to Dale they have a coffee or dinner on Friday night and Dale answers, "I don't really date ... I shouldn't feel too close to people." To that she then slips out mysteriously, "I know when I am going to die."

But once Rowen convinces Dale to make a date for what she would rather call a "coat rack" (rather than a "date"), she asks him for a favor in return. Dale has only one picture and an old pocket watch with an engraved "Cari Lee" on it from the seventeen-year-old mother who left her at birth and has never been seen again by her father Jimmy or her. The watch is broken, and its cover cannot be opened. She asks him to fix it for her.

His tinkering and subsequent opening of the watch not only causes him to half-scream and run with red-dripping watch in hand (the startling moment and blood noted through Nathanael Card's effective lighting effects and supported by Lana Palmer's impressive sound design), it leads to a mysterious teenage girl arriving at the door who seems quite familiar with the surroundings—and with same-aged Dale. This girl appears in 1992 as if from an earlier generation, given her hippie style hair and clothes. But more spooky is that she has come looking for one thing and one thing only: her watch she left to be repaired with the name "Cari Lee" on it.

With that set-up, Marisa Wegrzyn sends us on a turning, twisting journey of intertwined lives and stories between the opening period of 1992 and a flashback to happenings in the same watch repair shop eighteen years prior in 1992. Four of the five-person cast double in their roles, with only the sudden-appearing Cari Lee being played in both time periods by Sarah Haas—each time wearing a torn tank-top, '70s-style boots, and blonde hair tangled and mangled and each time saying and asking things that leave others with looks of some combination of shock, disgust, curiosity and amusement. Her Cari Lee is the key force that drives the story back and forth across two time periods and through three acts. Her initial, singular dimension of carefree, free-speaking/acting hippie teenager takes on more complex and meaningful aspects in the play's journey, with Ms. Haas giving the evening's most intriguing and interesting performance.

We soon discover that fifty-something Jimmy and the two seventeen-year-olds, Dale and Cari Lee, are linked as a family of sorts, as are the same Jimmy, stepmother Kate, and Dale. How this is all possible has a lot to do with "mortal clocks," with the fact that Jimmy and the father before him repair not only regular clocks but these ominous-sounding "mortal" ones, and with the genetic quirk that some people—people like Cari Lee and Dale—are born with their "mortal clocks" in their brains and not wrapped around their hearts. For those unfortunates, their brain tells them from birth the date of death engraved on their clock. For them, it is as Dale describes to a knowing Cari Lee that she feels like "I'm dying every second." For them, it is thus worth the risk to ask the "mortal clock" repairman to remove their clock from the brain, his using concoctions and procedures written in hand by Jimmy's now-dead mother Helen.

Zoey Lytle is the young, reserved Dale who has been facing her mortality alone through all her growing-up years and now torn about how much to tell to whom and how much to like the cute Rowan (Jonathan Covey) with his doubly cute Irish accent. In the second act, she will appear as the younger, cheerleader version of her stepmother Kate; he will be the teen that her father Jimmy once was. Troy Johnson plays with similar traits, looks and voices Jimmy in 1994 and Jimmy's father Richard in 1992. Allie Bailey is the later version of cheerleader Kate, a woman who calls to question what defines a mother/daughter relationship—an umbilical cord connection or years of care, devotion and love. Ms. Bailey is also Richard's wife and Young Jimmy's mother Helen in 1974—a whiskey-tipping, nose-upturned woman who has deep expertise and personal experience about mortal clocks, all accumulated during a lifetime and lifeline quite incredible.

The telling of this tale fantastical is unfortunately not as steady as the ticking of a clock. Through some combination of the playwright's script, the pace and choices set by director Kimberly Ridgeway, and the actors themselves (especially in the persona of the adults of the story), there are times when the story slows to an almost stop-watch halt before picking up speed and intrigue again when another revelation of the complicated web of time-warped, love-mixed relationships is introduced. While there are moments when emotional breakthroughs are touching and while important questions about mortality, kinship and sacrifice are raised, there are too many intervening moments when one's interest and attention wavers, leading at least this one audience member to look more than just a couple of times at my own watch to see how much more time was left for me in Hickorydickory.

Hickorydickory runs through September 29, 2019, at Dragon Productions Theatre Company, 2120 Broadway Street, Redwood City CA. For tickets and information, visit or call 650-493-2006.