None of us are getting out of here alive, but we are getting tzotchkes and knick knacks before it all ends. The “here” I am referring to is life and an actor, simply known as “Guy” (Michael Emerson) will spend 75 plaintive and sometimes whimsical minutes talking to us about our mortal condition while reading interesting trivia from 3X5 business cards. It sounds dull, but Playwright Will Eno’s existentialist drama captures our attention and beautifully paints a canvas of what it means to live a life well lived.
Time is a recurrent theme—or rather the lack of it. “I thought I had more time,” says the Guy, who sits in his wheelchair next to boxes which suggest that he is moving out. He is, in fact, passing away. With the help of his caretaker, Lisa (January LaVoy), the Guy is contemplating the years he’s left behind before venturing towards his eternal rest. “We forget that a hundred thousand people died yesterday,” he says pensively, and continues to discuss the fact that “the coffee cakes and casseroles that are disappearing.” Even with this description, it sounds like quite a downer. In the wrong hands, it well could be. Eno is known for his quirky writing, having scribed the critically acclaimed Off-Broadway hit, Thom Pain (based on nothing), and Broadway’s The Realistic Joneses. His writing style is carefully metered and requires actors with precise timing and delivery. It is the sort of work that cannot be taught in acting school. It’s either felt instinctively or it is not. For Emerson and LaVoy, it is absolutely instinctive, the result of which feels like a cross between a lecture by death expert, Dr. Elisabeth Kubler Ross, and a pep talk by self-help guru, Tony Robbins. Eno, who also directed, intersperses his dialogue with off-beat tidbits like, “Figs are rich in iron, ” and he offers random reflection on a punch bowl. What the Guy discusses is often as unpredictable as a roulette wheel, but isn’t that really how life plays out anyway?
Wakey, Wakey is a fitting title for this brief but potent work, as it fully awakens us to our present state. Simultaneously, it softens the blow that will inevitably be dealt to each of us one day. Don’t worry. You’ll get some free stuff before you go. You just need to get to Signature Theater to claim your prizes. Oh, and enjoy them while you can because none of them are going with you.
Wakey, Wakey has been extended and will run through April 2 @ The Pershing Square Signature Center, 480 West 42nd Street between 9th and 10th Ave. For tickets and more information, click here