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A CurtainUp Review
Wakey, Wakey
Time is your friend and time is your enemy. We can choose which, for a while. — Guy
Michael Emerson (Joan Marcus)
As the title intimates, Will Eno's contemplative 75 minute play is about a man named Guy (Michael Emerson) as he nears the time of his death. Without any bitterness or regret, we listen to his rueful but mainly grateful remembrances of the many sounds, words and impressions that have been indelibly embedded in his brain. These are revived somewhat willy-nilly as he sits mostly in a wheel chair, although he does get up and walk a bit on occasion, to speak to us, both self-amused and self aware.

Guy's essentially stream-of consciousness narrative takes the form of a one-way, if purposely digressive, conversation with us. Never morbid, it is surprisingly illuminating and insightful, even revelatory. In particular, Eno imparts a bit of scientific research: that the brain is actually physically changed by words and images, even those that some of us have only casually been affected by or have more experientially embraced during a lifetime.

As sensitively directed by the playwright, Wakey, Wakey is not a solo work. It is primarily acted by a terrific Emerson, but it also has a beautifully understated performance, basically a cameo, by January Lavoy as Lisa an attentive and caring nurse in a terminal care wing of a hospital.

The play's title is best explained by Eno in the Signature Notes in which he talks about his friendship and collaboration with Signature Theatre's Artistic Director who died on August 2, 2016: "I wanted something that sort of has that sense of 'time to get up,' in it, and also of a 'wake' — as in an Irish wake—, but also has a silly, nursery rhyme thing to it."

I suspect those who are familiar with Eno's plays, including Thom Pain and The Realistic Joneses, will find that Wakey, Wakey, which completes Eno's Residency Five work for the Signature, his most easily embraced and most deliberately accessible.

At the beginning, and for a brief moment, we see Guy lying on the floor in his pajama pants. He awakens in the abstract setting designed by Christine Jones that is dominated by a simple stand-alone wall-like partition used for projections. Stirring amid a number of packing boxes and a pile of clothes, he speaks — "Is it now? I thought I had more time,"

After a brief blackout Guy is back with us sitting in a wheelchair. Now, with a suit jacket over his pajama pants, he directs his thoughts to us, mainly his personal, often whimsically expressed feelings about, well....things.

Guy is acutely aware of what is happening and the play is structured that of a casually delivered end-of-life experience that we share with a man with whom we will become acquainted, not to mention fond.

Emerson, who won acclaim for his roles both on Broadway (The Iceman Cometh , Hedda Gabler ) and off Broadway (Gross Indecency ) but is probably best known for his roles on TV (The Practice , Lost and Persons of Interest) projects an aura of subdued yet winning naturalism.

Always ready to cling and sustain a funny thought, Emerson's Guy makes sure his audience is on the same page. We are. I doubt if I will soon forget the look of wonder and expectancy in Emerson's eyes, as he both ruefully and amusingly leads his character toward the unknown.

It isn't easy or is it necessary for me to explain the circuitous course of the narrative, except to say that there are many gentle laughs amidst the visual and aural trigger points in Guy's life that pop up. Of course there is also room for a bit of thoughtful contemplation and reflection. But, I especially loved the moment when he thinks he might be getting just a little too morose (never really the case) and says "A joke would be good, right around here. A joke would be so funny right now."

The production designers deserve kudos for a dazzling and exhilarating finale, one that sends audiences out on a high. Before that, Guy's thoughts have the benefit of Peter Nigrini's superb projection design. All other technical credits are first rate.

The press release has this hopeful line: "...there's a chance this will be a really good experience." It was...and more.

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akey, Wakey by Will Eno
Directed by Will Eno

Cast: Michael Emerson (Guy), January Lavoy (Lisa)
Scenic Design: Christine Jones
Costume Design: MichaelKrass
Lighting Design: David Lander
Sound Design: Nevin Steinberg
Projection Design: Peter Nigrini
Production Stage Manager: David H. Lurie
Running time: 1 hour 15 minutes no intermission
The Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theater, Pershing Square Signature Center, 480 West 42nd Street
(212) 244-7529
From 02/07/17 Opened 02/27/17 Ends 03/26/17 (the last week is an extension which means the discount usual for these production doesn't apply.
Review by Simon Saltzman based on performance 02/25/17

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