BWW Review: WAKEY WAKEY at American Conservatory Theatre Is A Superbly-Acted Exploration Of What It Means To Be Alive In The Modern World
One of the most inventive playwrights of the new millennium, Will Eno has explored modern living with an eye toward the quirky and unexpected. In Wakey Wakey, he sets his sights baldly on the meaning of life. If his acerbic wit meanders, he achieves a satisfying catharsis in this charming piece brilliantly performed by Tony Hale.
Eno first premieres a short play, The Substitution, which serves as a suitable companion piece and helps ground the main act in reality. It calls our attention to the "quiet events" of history, echoing Wilder and his attention to the mundane business of our living and dying. Wakey Wakey evokes Beckett in its tantalizing interweaving of comedy and tragedy, though it lacks his economy of words. In the end, Eno reaches a far more optimistic conclusion than his theatrical predecessors, reveling in the simple and real connections we make with one another and the everyday joys of our existence.
Hale's elasticity as a performer brings clarity to Eno's wide-ranging script. Bringing the audience to near hysterics one minute, the next a single tear might roll down his cheek and break your heart. He confronts his own mortality with the bravery and humor we all might hope to possess. Beckett had a penchant for casting clowns in his existential plays, and Hale would find himself at home in that master's works as well.
The Substitution's cast of adult driver's education students are richly drawn despite the play's short running time, while Kathryn Smith-McGlynn is a standout in her dual role. Director Anne Kaufman brings a lovely pacing and light touch to the evening, and Leah Gelpe's ebullient sound and projection designs are both superb.
Wakey Wakey is a superbly-acted exploration of what it means to be alive in the modern world that will provoke you and ultimately lift you out of your seat with a deeper appreciation for the life you're leading.