BWW Review: Will Eno's WAKEY, WAKEY Offers Punch, Cake and Ruminations on Life
You can't say that playwright/director Will Eno doesn't go out big with his new piece, Wakey, Wakey. Just before curtain calls, an extra-bright video montage, set to The Olivia Tremor Control's "Love Athena," wreaks havoc with audience members' pupils. Once eyes are able to adjust, they'll notice bubbles floating through the house, followed by balloons. There's even a large disco ball reflecting lights all over the place.
On the way out of the theatre, customers may help themselves to fortune cookies, stress balls and rubber bracelets and once in the lobby they're greeted by a display of complimentary coffee cake, punch, figs and lollipops.
So what happens during the 70 minutes before all this happens? Well, as with any Eno concoction (THOM PAIN (BASED ON NOTHING), THE REALISTIC JONESES, THE OPEN HOUSE), that's debatable. Although a glance through the program notes will tell you that Wakey, Wakey is a bit of a tribute to Signature Theatre's founding artistic director James Houghton, who passed on in August of 2016.
An impishly genial Michael Emerson plays Guy, who addresses the audience from a wheelchair that he doesn't necessarily have to use. He's rather surprised to see us at first, meekly asking, "Is it now? I thought I had more time." There's a quick blackout where a projection flashes to the audience, "No Applause."
Apparently, this what happens when your time comes. You get about an hour to talk to an Off-Broadway audience and then they get parting gifts.
"We're here to say good-bye and maybe hopefully also get better at saying hello," Guy explains. "To celebrate Life, if that doesn't sound too passive-aggressive."
Emerson makes for appealing company and Eno's meandering text has its cute and funny moments. Checking out some Guy's childhood photos and hearing his thoughts about a distant siren are actually more amusing than they sound.
But there's also a redundant meta quality that gets tiresome. Early on he points to a member of the audience as a reminder that someday, when you least expect it, you may be sitting in an audience and an actor will point at you.
When there's a lull in his monologue, Guy asks, "What do you make of the fact that this event, painstakingly scripted, rehearsed, designed and directed, features someone saying, 'I don't know exactly what to say to you'?"
About midway through, a pleasant woman named Lisa enters. (nicely natural January Lavoy) Her purpose and relation to Guy is unclear, although she seems to be experienced in helping people through these moments. She also does a little dance.
As for any further descriptions, I don't know exactly what to say to you.