"Hickorydictory" opens March 20 for five performances at 7:30 p.m. in EMU's MainStage Theater. Directed by EMU associate professor Heidi Winters Vogel, the play offers "a dark and twisted humorous approach to telling life-affirming tales," she says. Playwright Marisa Wegrzyn will be on campus for a Q&A after the March 28 performance. (Publicity poster by Jon Styer)

Mortal clocks ticking in EMU’S “Hickorydickory”

In the play “Hickorydickory,” normal people have mortal clocks behind their hearts. But others have clocks in their heads and they can hear the maddening ticking. Worse yet, they know when death will come knocking.

But don’t despair! Owners of a Chicago watch repair shop know how to easily extract those maddening head clocks. That is, if people don’t attempt to prolong life by transferring time to another mortal clock.

The quirky, but delightful “Hickorydickory” opens March 20 in Eastern Mennonite University’s MainStage Theater. The two-hour play, directed by associate professor Heidi Winters Vogel, will also run March 21, 26, 27 and 28. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Tickets can be purchased through the EMU box office at 540-432-4582 or emu.edu/box-office/.

“I have wanted to do this play since before I came to EMU,” Vogel says, who worked with playwright Marisa Wegrzyn at Washington University in St. Louis. “[I] love her dark and twisted humorous approach to telling life-affirming tales.”

Wegrzyn, who won the 2009 Wasserstein Prize for “Hickorydickory,” will be on campus for a Q&A after the March 28 performance. She’ll also hold a writing workshop for students on creating complex characters in the MainStage Theater at 2 p.m. on March 28.

Having the playwright watch your performance can be daunting for any actor. Senior Rebekah York, a peacebuilding and development major, is admittedly nervous about Wegrzyn liking her portrayal of Cari Lee Bliley, but “thrilled about her coming.”

To prepare for her role, York began by reading the script several times before focusing on her character’s lines. “I notice words or phrases she repeats, her sentence structure and also try to find where she would put emphasis on certain words,” York says.

Vogel had each actor create a music playlist their character would choose, an activity that York says helps her enter “my character zone.”

“While listening to the music, I imagine what my character does in her free time, how she interacts at school and what she does with her friends,” York says. “I try to get into her mind and fully embody every aspect of her being,” which includes gestures, a walk and voice different from her own.

Vogel also has her cast improvise events that are only referred to in the show. “This has been really useful in deepening the relationships between the characters by having the actors live those experiences, not just imagine,” she says.

Prop master Robert Weaver, a sophomore business administration major, has had challenges building props for an old watch repair shop, which “isn’t quite the real world.” Finding mechanical and sprung-wound clocks is difficult in this electronic age. And then there are the props containing blood.

“Figuring out a mechanism that fits into a pocket watch and squirts bloods is definitely an interesting challenge,” he said.

Even though the play is decidedly wacky, its theme of human connections through love and sacrifice is universal.

“That lovely theme is in the world of pocket watches that spurt blood, two onstage surgeries and a rude, rebellious teenager who’s been stuck at age 17 for 18 years,” Vogel says. “I hope the audience will recognize themselves in these characters, their willingness to make loving choices even with their very human flaws.”