Clockwatchers

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It’s been quite the week since I got back from Hong Kong, jumping back into the corporate fray with the zeal of someone who didn’t just get back from a ten day vacation.  I’m back on the business travel jaunt, but I wanted to make sure I let my blog readers know to check out Chicago Dramatists’ world-premiere production of Marisa Wegrzyn’s Hickorydickory, which won the playwright the 2009 Wendy Wasserstein prize for work by an emerging female playwright.  It’s closing this weekend, so catch it then, because I think it’ll probably have a bigger and longer life after Chicago.  I’ve been a big admirer of Wegrzyn over the years, since I think she has probably one of the most distinctive voices among Chicago playwrights.  Her plays are dark, biting, hilarious, and insightful, putting the surreal and the absurd in what, on the surface, seems drab and ordinary.  Sometimes, I think her plays are memorably successful such as Killing Women, a black comedy about corporate-like politics in an organization of housewife-assassins, one of the most ingeniously eccentric new plays I’ve seen during the past several years.  At other times, though, I think they’re quite frustratingly chaotic such as Butcher of Baraboo, about a family with violent secrets in, you guessed it, Baraboo, Wisconsin.  Hickorydickory falls in the former category.  It has quite an interesting premise – what if we have alarm clocks behind our hearts (and for some of us, maddeningly inside our heads) that tell us how long we will live?  How much will we change the way we live our life, missing opportunities and dismissing potential, sticking to the mundane here and now, if we know our time of death?  What kind of relationships will we form?  What if we had the chance to tamper with our life clock, will we play god and try to extend our mortality? What kind of person does that make us, then?  It’s a masterfully written piece that touches on profound questions around the mastery of our fate and the fallibility of our humanity.  Additionally, it also beautifully paints a portrait of familial, especially maternal, love.  I won’t give away the narrative since I think part of the pleasure of watching Hickorydickory is seeing Wegrzyn’s finely-etched characters unfold their surreal lives, told in an engaging way that recalls the short stories of Murakami despite being set in a generic Chicago suburb.  Overlooking the close to three hours running time, I think it’s definitely one of the plays to catch this month (and despite the length, it is never boring or heavy handed).  Chicago Dramatists Artistic Director Russ Tutterow directs the play with a light hand and a warm heart, and is greatly aided by a terrific cast.  The young actress Cathlyn Melvin, touching, feisty, heartachingly good in two roles, is the definite standout.

Hickorydickory closes this Sunday, June 12, at Chicago Dramatists, 1105 W. Chicago Ave.  It will be a shame if you miss its Chicago world-premiere production because my gut says it will pop up soon somewhere else (maybe in that secondary theater city, NYC?)

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