BWW Reviews: SeaGlass Theatre's WAKE A Winning West Coast Premiere

Wake/by Carey Crim/directed by Matt Kirkwood/SeaGlass Theatre at the Fremont Centre Theatre, Pasadena/through May 25

Playwright Carey Crim claims she has always felt that undertakers "care more about people than anyone else", so she has set her play Wake in the pleasant home/funeral parlor of embalmer Molly (Alison Blanchard), her daughter Sam (Allie Costa) and her mother Ivy (Nancy B. Berggren). Molly's husband Peter (Lauren McCormack) died in a freak accident three years previous to the play's action, but his spirit walks around the house, popping in and out of Molly's daily routines. (picture above) The living versus the dead. Is there communication between them? If so, what is the effect? A curiously fascinating examination of how we should live as opposed to the way we often do. Now onstage at the Fremont Centre Theatre in Pasadena, SeaGlass Theatre presents Wake through May 25 with meticulous direction from Matt Kirkwood and a truly loving cast.

Crim's play deals with several wakes held in the funeral parlor of Molly's home but 'wake' has another vital meaning. Molly suffers from agoraphobia, an anxiety disorder which may cause someone to stay confined in the safety of a comfortable environment. Molly has not left the house in 3 years since the death of Peter. She has home-schooled Sammi to keep her 'protected' from the evil of the outside world. When...or will she wake up from her horrible state and venture forward into a new life? Her mother Ivy is around to constantly remind her how she must change...then Molly meets a man Joe (Michael Connors) - she has prepared the body of his father for viewing in the parlor - and Joe gradually falls for her. That is easy to do, as Molly is a beautiful person inside, caring and supportive of everyone she touches. But will her condition restrict her from pursuing a new relationship? For Molly's 45th birthday, Ivy has purchased two tickets for Molly and Sammi to go to Moscow in three months during the Thanksgiving holiday. Moscow was a favorite place for literary lover Peter and Molly, and it will be Sammi's first time abroad. But can Molly muster the courage to get out and make the trip? This is the basic core of the play which deals psychologically with Molly's fears, as well as Sammi's - she is, unbeknownst to Molly, stealing personal items from various corpses for no apparent reason - and Ivy is slowly losing her memories, to the throes of Alzheimer's disease... and Peter's concerns and jealousy of Joe's attentions to Molly. Spirits do appear to have a semblance of feelings, as they hang around in the world of the living.

This cast is superb under Matt Kirkwood's detailed direction. Blanchard presents Molly with such genuine emotion, simultaneously bringing out her strengths and vulnerabilities. We can see her ultra caring side as she makes up the corpses. She talks to them, thus communicating, in a very personal way. Costa is feisty and adorable in spite of her pent up neediness and misunderstood behavior. Berggren is stalwart and supportive as grandma, and Connors adds more warmth, support and vulnerability as the more secure, patient and very likable Joe. It is McCormack who has the most difficult role. Because we never see him alive, we never understand his motives or know that much about his past, except his bizarre death, which you must hear about for yourself to believe. Great offbeat humor from Crim, which shows up in other areas of the piece too. Her overall sense of humor lightens the darkest moments in all of the characters' lives. Aaron and Monika Henderson have designed a very functional set which represents the two sides of Molly's home as well as some exteriors.

Wake is thoughtful, introspective and exceedingly painful at times, but its insistence on reality produces positive results. I was always attracted to cable TV's well-written series Six Feet Under and was reminded of the anxieties and quirky appeal of that family as I watched Wake. It is so honest and soothing that you will hopefully be captivated... by its gently powerful, life-affirming qualities.

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From This Author Don Grigware