BWW Reviews: W.K. Tells Conventional Love Story in a Surprising, Unconventional Way
If you go see W.K., the startling original play now playing at The Vortex, you may notice the following note in the program: "W.K. is a work in progress and we would love your feedback, thoughts, and ideas as we continue to develop the piece." Here's my feedback. Don't change a damn thing. As it is right now, W.K. is one of the most astonishing and innovative pieces of theater to come along in Austin in quite a while.
The idea itself is somewhat familiar. Over the course of an hour, we see vignettes from the 7 year relationship between Kathy (Celina Chapin) and Willie (Aaron Alexander). What starts as a blissfully happy romance slowly deteriorates. While the story's been done before, the inventiveness with which it is told here is absolutely remarkable.
The evening is a surprising mix of avant garde theatre, performance art, mime, dance, and modern drama. Those are certainly disparate ingredients that should be difficult to mix, but they wonderfully coalesce here. Of the avant garde moments, director Katherine Wilkinson and writer Zoey Cane Belyea ensure that they never fall into the trap of misguided pretentiousness that other pieces often do. Every movement and moment has a clear purpose. We're immediately disarmed when we enter the theater and see the two person cast performing robotic movements in perfect synchronicity as an episode of "The Dating Game" plays behind them. An early moment of mime comedy and a dance/sing-along to the Minnie Riperston hit "Loving You" gets us laughing, as does a sequence involving snippets of first date conversation.
But shortly after the comedic exposition, the tone shifts a bit to a more traditional, dialogue driven piece of theater. Willie and Kathy meet and very quickly fall for each other. Still, Kathy has her reservations. Her grandparents had a rough patch about seven years into their marriage which left them resigned to live in the same house for twenty years, refusing to speak to each other. Of course, history has a way of repeating itself. Despite the strong and hopeful start to their relationship, complete with playful food fights and steamy sex, the relationship between Willie and Kathy slowly dissolves. By the end, they can't even talk to each other anymore. Instead, they viciously and angrily leap at one another, only to toss each other aside. The sequence, choreographed by Chapin, is breathtaking and simultaneously horrifying and beautiful. It's a lengthy sequence but one you wish would keep going.
The climactic battle royale speaks volumes of the incredible talents of Chapin and Alexander. As scene partners, they have an incredible chemistry, but as dance partners, they're electric. Chapin's athletic and sometimes dangerous choreography demands an incredible level of trust between performers, and both she and Alexander throw themselves into the physicality of the choreography with fearless tenacity.
Remarkably, while W.K. gives us a love story that doesn't end with happily ever after, we're still left somewhat optimistic. Early on in the show, we're given paper and a pen and are asked to write down the name of our first love. For me, just jotting down that name made me remember some wonderful, surreal emotions that were foreign to the seventeen year old version of myself. And that was all I could remember initially. I had to grasp and struggle to remember more, particularly how I felt when that first love ended. Did my first love end in anger, aggression, and tears? No. If it did, I would certainly remember. Do some relationships end that way? Yes, many of them do. So is our search for love worth it it's impossible to know if, when, or how it will end? Absolutely. Regardless of how a relationship ends, it still starts with love, and that's more than worth the possible pain.
NOTE: For mature audiences only.
Running time: Approximately 1 hour, no intermission.
W.K., produced by Gale Theater Company and The Vortex Rep, plays The Vortex at 2307 Manor Road, Austin, 78722 now thru February 1st. Performances are Thursday - Sunday at 8pm. Tickets are $10-$30. For tickets and information, please visit www.vortexrep.org