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A CurtainUp Review
No Wake

I think you need to let this go.— Nolan
There's a lot I need to let go — Rebecca
no wake
L-R: Tricia Small, Stef Tovar and Tim Ransom
William Donnelly's 2010 play, No Wake, is having its New Premiere at 59/59's smallest venue, Theater C. Not a bad seat in this intimate space with the actors as close to you as if they were visiting you in your living room.

When Edward Nolan (Stef Tovar) tells his former wife Rebecca (Tricia Small) that there are things she's got to let go of, he knows what he's talking about. The memories that haunt her are as heavy a shadow over his life as hers.

Though Rebecca addresses Nolan as Teddy, she's moved on and is remarried to Roger Padgett (Tim Ransom), a Brit she met on a cruise vacation. The presence of Roger adds the subplot of a marital triangle to the main theme: Rebecca and Edward's coming to terms with the tragedy that led to the breakup of their marriage and which has once again brought them together and stirred feelings companionable and sexual compatibility, along with the guilt and regret about the events leading up to this final chapter in their daughter's life.

As No Wake has a dual plot, so its title has at least two meanings. The first of its seven scenes establishes that the occasion bringing its characters to a seaside hotel is a memorial service but will not be followed by the wake Edward's mother would have liked. Edward's account of seeing the words "No Wake" on a buoy warning local boatmen to slow down and not make waves is brought into the concluding scene between him and Rebecca — a metaphor for the crossroads at which they find themselves.

Though there are just three actors on stage, Rebecca and Edward's daughter and Edward's girlfriend, especially the former, play important roles in the plot's development. The daughter, both as a child and an adult, embodies the fears that at one time or another overwhelms parents.

Donnelly's turning the temporary reunion of a formerly married couple into a triangular situation might sound somewhat generic. And his way of peppering his script with humorous dialogue, notably Patchett's lengthy prologue and a comical altercation between him and Nolan might make this initially seem more an update of Noel Coward's Private Lives than a modern American family tragedy. However, while neither the playwright or director Veronica Brady manage to make the glib banter and more painful undercurrents always mesh fluidly, there is a lot that's heart-touching and compelling.

The play opens with what amounts to a tour-de-force monologue by Roger. It purposefully has the audience confused as to just why he and Nolan are having drinks together. But it's full of referential hints that clarify who's who and become increasingly meaningful as the scene shifts. Those shifts take us from the bar to Nolan's hotel room, then a restaurant and eventually the apartment of Suki, the Nolan daughter, all without an intermisson. Given the claustophobically small stage, Brady and her designers have done their best to take us to the various locations with as little fuss as possible during the needed blackouts for as much of a scenery change as possible.

As Edward and Rebecca unpack their painful memories, and Roger lets us see the needy man beneath the glib exterior, Donnelly does takes us deep into all their hearts and souls. To make all this work requires actors skilled at navigating between the darker and lighter interchanges.

Stef Tovar is most successful in letting us see a man whose guilt about his not being there for his wife as their daughter's problems intensified has seeded an overall sense of failure; to wit, his "I just can't help thinking that I've got some sort of . . . kill switch that gets tripped at a certain point in every relationship. Doesn't matter if it's familial, romantic, professional — I pee in every pool. I don't know why." He may be a loser, but it's easy to see why Rebecca fell in love with him.

Tricia Small also tugs at our heartstrings as she recollects the adorable child she couldn't stop from eventually hating her. And she convincingly uncovers the pain of a mother unable to reach her troubled daughter, a wife deserted by her husband, a woman who finds the renewal found through a new love rattled by this meeting with the first one. She sums up the ever festering wound inflicted by having a mentally child with "when I wake up at night and I can't get back to sleep, the only question knocking against the front of my skull is, how did you create a child who despises you?" Her conflicted feelings are expressed when at one point she wryly tells him "I've always liked you. Even when I hated you.
As for Tim Ransom's Padgett, while he brings a good deal of charm, drollness and, eventually depth, the playwright has created a character teetering at the edge of debonair British stereotype. That said, I have to admit that by the time the debonair Brit feels like the third-wheel in this triangular set-up — a man who feels like he has no rights to share in the pain and also helpless as to how to go about asserting himself — I felt as sorry, actually more so, for him than Rebecca and Edward.

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No Wake by William Donnelly
Directed by Veronica Brady
Cast: Tim Ransom (Padgett), Tricia Small (Rebecca),Stef Tovar (Nolan)
Sets: Tom Buderwitz
Costumes: Michael Mullen
Lighting: Brian Tovar
Sound designer and composer: Lindsay Jones
Stage Manager: Abbie Betts
Running time: 85 minutes, no intermission
59E59 Theaters (212) 279-4200
From 9/28/17; opening 10/04/17; closing 10/15/17. Tuesday -Thursday at 7:30 PM; Friday at 8:30 PM; Saturday at 2:30 PM and 8:30 PM; and Sunday at 3:30 PM and 7:30 PM.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at 10/03/17 press preview

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