BWW Review: WAKEY, WAKEY Uses Death to Remind Us of What's Important in Life, at Portland Playhouse
"Is it now? I thought I had more time." That's Guy's first line in Will Eno's quietly profound play WAKEY, WAKEY, now on stage at Portland Playhouse. It gets straight to the core of many people's (me included) fear of death -- the fear that it may come before we're ready.
A minute later, Guy is back in his wheelchair, with a pile of notecards on which he's written his own eulogy of sorts. For the next 80 minutes or so, he delivers a rambling monologue that wends its way from reflecting on his childhood to contemplating the nature of death to watching animal videos. It's a random stream of consciousness from someone who's staring death in the face and still doesn't know what to make of it all.
Guy is played by Michael O'Connell, which was a great choice. His lilting delivery perfectly conveys the idea that, even though Guy has been preparing for this moment, he's still surprised by the whole thing, including by the words coming out of his mouth. It's as if he didn't really understanding his own thoughts and feelings about death until the very moment that it happened, and maybe not even then. Nikki Weaver appears later, as a visitor/caretaker, who both shepherds Guy to the inevitable end and also reminds us that sometimes we should all just get up and dance.
I've read several reviews of different productions of WAKEY, WAKEY, and the audience seems to fall into two camps: profoundly moved or bored stiff. I'm in the first camp.
This is a quiet play. It's not going to make you laugh (at least not too loudly -- a few chuckles here and there) or cry. It doesn't hit you with any major revelations about mortality. What it does do is remind us of the powerful truth best expressed by Annie Dillard: "How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing." It reminds us to spend more of our time doing things that bring us joy, even if that requires renting a smoke machine.
WAKEY, WAKEY runs through October 21. More details and tickets here.