BWW Review: IN THE WAKE Challenges Us to See and Conquer Our Blind Spots, Both Personally and Politically, at Profile Theatre
Lisa Kron's IN THE WAKE opens during the aftermath of the 2000 presidential election. But you could be forgiven for thinking it was November of 2016. Ellen (Beth Thompson) sits on a couch in her apartment, feeling like she woke up in a world she didn't recognize and wondering how we, as a country, got there. The play traces a similar journey in her personal life, drawing parallels between the personal and the political to suggest that even the most unimaginable outcomes aren't really that out there -- it's just that we're really bad at seeing past the end of our own nose.
Ellen is aggravating, and also familiar -- a progressive perpetually poised to attack Republican views on just about anything while remaining completely blind to her own privilege. She's white, well educated, and has the financial resources to pursue her dream of being a writer in New York City without needing a regular paycheck. She also has plenty of people who love her, including Danny (charmingly played by Chris Murray), world's most understanding and supportive boyfriend.
From this position, Ellen can't even begin to comprehend the lives and choices of people who didn't start out 100 steps ahead, just as we, as Americans, can't understand that many things we feel entitled to (e.g., fair and equitable treatment) aren't the default setting for most people around the world. And because Ellen feels she deserves everything she has, she's extremely selfish.
Case in point -- Ellen falls in love with Amy (a captivating Jamie M. Rea), a woman who brings a passion to Ellen's life that Danny does not. But, she refuses to choose between them. Instead, she keeps them both dangling painfully -- for a year and a half! -- taking their love as her due while not giving up anything at all. When Ellen finally gets her comeuppance from Judy (a fabulously gruff Jane Bement Geesman), a friend who has spent her life as an aid worker in Africa and has no illusions about personal or American exceptionalism, you'll want to stand up and start cheering.
I liked IN THE WAKE immensely. The cast is awesome, especially Beth Thompson, who, as Ellen, is on stage for the play's entire 2 hours 40 minutes (pay your parking meter accordingly). She strikes a balance of wokeness and blindness perfectly calculated to make the white liberals in the audience uncomfortable.
That said, it's not a stress-free play to watch -- if you're currently avoiding the news because it raises your blood pressure and causes you to drink too much, this might not be the best choice for your Friday night. But if you're in the mood for a smart, engaging play that will challenge you to think more closely about your own assumptions and the dangers of judging other people through your personal lens, then it's perfect.
Photo credit: David Kinder