"The Ticking Clock Project" at Sixth Street Playhouse Studio Theater, Santa Rosa CA

Photo by Eric Chazankin: From left to right: Kathleen York, Joan Hawley, Lois Pearlman, Laura J. Davies, Lauren Feige, Paige Picard, Shari Hopkinson, Jessica Short, Molly Umholtz, Tricia Siegel, Sheila Lichirie and Taylor Diffenderfer

Reviewed by Suzanne and Greg Angeo

Time to Let the Sunshine In

In so many ways, women have a secret society. Their often difficult decisions about having children, the most powerful of human experiences, have been hidden behind a veil of silence, shame and guilt. Now the sunlight breaks through with exuberant joy, revealing the brilliant rainbow of women performers in “The Ticking Clock Project”.

Playwright and novelist Jody Gehrman, whose roots are firmly planted in Northern California, has struck gold with this rousing and richly perceptive ensemble piece. “The Ticking Clock Project” had its world premiere in January 2010 at Mendocino College, where Gehrman teaches English. It’s based on stories she and her team of interviewers harvested from 150 women of all ages and backgrounds about their own biological “ticking clocks”. Their unique stories have been arranged like a symphony of voices, and the result is a form of performance art, ranging from profound to moving to hysterically funny, sometimes all at the same time.

The Studio Theater’s small stage is kept busy with the remarkable cast of eighteen, all from Sonoma county. Each performer plays multiple characters spanning the generations from teenage to senior citizen, straight and lesbian, married and single, homemaker and professional. Director Linda Reid is in fine form, making the space seem much larger than it is with creative but very simple staging techniques and orchestrating small groups of performers for each scene. Some of the original set pieces from Mendocino College serve as a backdrop.

This complex variety of characters passes in a breathtaking whirlwind of twenty short scenes filled with punchy dialogue. The cast is excellent, with some noteworthy performances by Taylor Diffenderfer, Victoria Hill and Sheila Lichirie. Maybe there could be a better balance between the two acts, at least on opening night; while Act One takes off as if shot from a cannon, Act Two doesn’t launch with quite the same energy, although it soon picks up the exhilarating pace, and garners a standing ovation at the show’s closing.

From beginning to end, “The Ticking Clock Project” is thoroughly entertaining and full of surprises. Immediately we recognize the women we know: our mothers, sisters and friends. But the real power of this amazing cavalcade is not only its relevance to women. It promises to be a real eye-opener for men too, offering them blazing insight into the “mysteries” of women and the choices they must make in life.

When: March 18 to April 3, 2011
8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 8 p.m. Thursday, March 31
2 p.m. Sundays
Tickets: $10 to $25
Location: 6th Street Playhouse – Studio Theatre
52 West 6th Street, in Santa Rosa’s historic Railroad Square
Phone: 707-523-4185
Website: www.6thstreetplayhouse.com