Off-Broadway Review: 'Wakey, Wakey' at the Signature Theatre
OnStage New York Critic
"The whole place makes you feel like you can do just a little more than you think you can, or that you should at least try" is not a line from "Wakey, Wakey," it's from an interview with the quirky, charming playwright and darling of the New York theatre scene, Will Eno.
This guy makes me smile. I've never met him but was immensely delighted by the talk he hosted with my idol Tracey Letts at 92SY earlier this year. I found him to be much like his plays-wonderfully quirky and offbeat. I leave his shows feeling a tiny bit befuddled, a little exhausted by the marathon of experienced emotions and totally in love with his work. The beauty of Will Eno's work is that there is always so much more to what you've seen and that something will linger with you long after you leave.
"Wakey, Wakey" now playing at the Signature Theatre is the culminating effort of Eno's "Residency Five" program--an initiative that guarantees playwrights three productions over a five-year span. Eno directs this production starring the extraordinary Michael Emerson and the subtly beautiful January Lavoy.
The 75 minute show opens with Eno himself doing a Eno-esque version of the now commonplace "turn your damn phone off" speech except this one involves a banana, and I'm guessing, Eno's daugher. This whole set up makes it even funnier, and sadder and even questionable when a phone goes off almost exactly halfway through the show. My friend and I quibbled over if it was intentional. I said no, having watched the stupid patron fuddle with the phone after it went off, she said yes given the seamless integration of Emerson's "Is that a phone, really?!" into his nearly 75 minute long monologue.
Emerson doesn't disappoint. He's perfectly suited for Eno's perfectly "normal" dialogue contained in what appears to be a well-made play but actually makes you question the whole form and shape of a theatrical experience altogether. As I dug further into the creation and execution of "Wakey, Wakey" I learned it was, at inception, a collaborative effort between Eno and Jim Houghton, the Signature Theatre founder who initiated the "Residency Five" program of which Eno will soon be a graduate. Houghton passed away this summer and while Eno is adamant that the play is not "about" Jim--it's definitely homage to the man, and a beautiful one at that. "Wakey, Wakey" is one part meditation on exercising gratitude for important people in our lives and one part living wake as we watch a man face down the end.
Eno said of his latest work, "I really hope this will feel like a thing that happened, not a play that you went to." Had I the capacity to speak normally to people I admire, I would have not just stared at him from the bottom of the stairwell in the Signature Theatre long after the play ended. I would have approached him to say that this play was simply a rich, beautiful experience filled with thoughtfulness and mystery and I'm stealing words straight out his interview because that's how I started this review and that's how I'm ending the piece and somehow I think he'd be okay with that.
It's hard to even know how to review an Eno show because on the one hand, particularly in the case of "Wakey, Wakey" the last thing I want to do is give away any of the experience- it's something you should go into unblemished. However I know people are looking for solid reasons why they should see this play instead of the numerous other options on the New York theatre scene.
So here are five solid reasons why you should see "Wakey, Wakey"
1) Will Eno
5) It sticks to your ribs.
Photo: January LaVoy and Michael EmersonJoan Marcus