Hyde Park Theatre's Wakey, Wakey
This production of Will Eno's solo show puts us at ease with our mortality through a captivating talk from a dying man
Reviewed by Shanon Weaver, Fri., March 9, 2018
I don't know my neighbors. Let's face it; you probably don't either. Sure, there's the friendly wave or "hello" if you happen to find yourselves outside at the same time. That's far from friendship, or even acquaintanceship. It's little more than a forced acknowledgment of another person's existence on the way to work.
Will Eno's Wakey, Wakey, which premiered off-Broadway last year and is now receiving its second-ever production at Hyde Park Theatre, would like us to change that, and much more.
HPT Artistic Director Ken Webster plays Guy, a wheelchair-bound (?) man at the end of his life. Through Guy, Eno delivers a cathartic treatise on empathy and human interaction, and a meditative lamentation of a lack thereof. Webster's performance radiates charm and elicits an active sympathy that never feels condescending. He invites us on a journey and makes it easy to accept the invitation. "We're not here to mope," Guy assures us. And with Webster's captivating, superbly funny performance, we never do.
Wakey could almost be thought of as a sister piece to Eno's 2004 solo show Thom Pain (based on nothing), produced at HPT in 2007 and 2013, also starring Webster. Where Thom Pain categorizes the human condition as simultaneously delectable and dismal (perhaps one as a symptom of the other) through a lens that is inspirationally nihilistic (can that even be a thing?), Wakey puts us at ease with our own mortality and asks us to proactively reflect on where we've been, what we've done, and where we can go.
Eno's rapturous love affair with the full potential of the English language continues on a stark but not uninviting set by Mark Pickell. It seems to suggest a facility rather than a residence, but there's an emptiness to it that suggests peace rather than dismay – a few boxes neatly stacked to the side almost give us the impression that all business here is packed up carefully, and we're ready for the end.
As Guy takes us through what I can best describe as an existential absurdist auto-eulogy, he assures us that everything is okay ("Nothing will be asked of you here") but often loses himself to his cue cards – a necessity due to whatever condition hastens his demise. There's a quaint sadness in his presentation, but also an acknowledgement that sadness is useless in the end, as he embraces the fact that "this isn't how this was supposed to go" and moves on to the next moment. He relishes every sound that interrupts him, as though he knows this will be the last time he hears the squealing brakes of a nearby truck or a passing emergency vehicle, wondering exactly what it is and remembering every other time he's heard it. These sounds are masterfully delivered by Robert Fisher, so beautifully subtle that we initially wonder if that might actually be a passing firetruck – not an uncommon occurrence at Hyde Park, as anyone who's performed in or attended a play there knows all too well.
Lowell Bartholomee provides a wonderful media projection package for the show. Part of Guy's presentation includes snapshots of cherished memories, calming and pleasing word puzzles, and the best screaming animal video you're likely to see on the Austin stage this season, stiff as that competition usually is.
As she is prone to do at Hyde Park Theatre of late, Rebecca Robinson shows up toward the end of the show as a friendly, soothing presence as Guy's time with us draws to an end. Though her character seems to be a caregiver of some sort, her performance suggests a sweet, loving voice assuring Guy it's okay to let go and letting him do so on his terms.
I can't comment on the show's final moments, other than to say it cements the fact that Wakey, Wakey is certainly a celebration of life toward the end of one and an urging of us all to open our arms and hearts, because what have we to lose?
I think I'll go talk to my neighbor.
Wakey, WakeyHyde Park Theatre, 511 W. 43rd, 512/479-7529
Through March 31
Running time: 1 hr.