By Tulis McCall
Will Eno‘s new play, Wakey Wakey could easily be called Nightie Night because it is about a man named Guy (Michael Emerson) who is measuring out the last moments of his life. Emerson is recognizable from his television work (Lost, and Person of Interest), and here he does not disappoint. Would that the material itself held up as well.
Whatever the reality, I hope we can
agree that: here we are. People
talk about matters of Life and
Death. But it’s really just Life,
isn’t it? When you think about it.
This is how the show begins. Emerson speaks with the aide of note cards, and is apparently very funny if you were to judge from the reactions of the audience the night I attended. I found his work intriguing and introspective, but not funny in the least. It appeared that the other audience members got a memo in their program that this was a comedy, so intense was the laughter. It did die down a bit as the piece went on, almost as if Emerson, by the power of personal intent, was pulling the audience into the correct lane of the pool.
The evening consists of the Guy reminiscing – well not reminiscing exactly. It is more of a delving into the moment, the way that Becket might examine the last moments of a man’s life. Eno goes deep, not wide. We see old photos, favorite videos, Guy meanders through his thoughts with precision if not clarity. Guy leads us in group “exercises” that involve directing our thoughts along the path he is choosing. He things about food. About the miracle of our bodies that are keeping us all alive, although in his case not for very long.
Soon an attendant shows up, a sort of Visiting Nurse named Lisa (January Savoy) who seems to be there to keep the Guy company during the last moments. She is a reassuring and gentle soul who executes her task of being a companion/witness with dignity and grace.
There are subtle sound interventions – a siren, a phone going off, crickets. The Guy acknowledges us at all times and draws our attention to the fact that what is happening is a man in a wheelchair is leading us at a billion miles an hour. For me the question is – to what destination? And why are we all on the wagon train. Eno writes with sly winks and nods and intellectual forays thither and yon. It can be a pleasure to listen to, especially in the hands of Emerson who is both deft and grounded in his chair and his persona.
In the end, however, there is not enough “there” there on which you can hang your hat. This is ephemeral and fleeting text that is scattered on the road to the departure of our kind narrator. But like rose petals on a path, these items are fragile, easily bruised, and are not strong enough to support the lightest threads of a story.
Wakey Wakey is an event that falls short of becoming a piece that hits you where you live, or, in this case, expire.
WAKEY, WAKEY Written and Directed by Will Eno
WITH Michael Emerson and January LaVoy
Scenic Design by Christine Jones, Costume Design by Michael Krass, Lighting Design by David Lander
Signature Theatre’s (Paige Evans, Artistic Director; Erika Mallin, Executive Director; James Houghton, Founder) production will run through March 26, 2017 in The Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre at The Pershing Square Signature Center (480 West 42nd Street between 9th and 10th Avenues). Tickets during the extension performances begin at $40.