A man lies helpless, sprawled on the floor of an unadorned space. Blackout. The next moment the man is sitting in a wheelchair talking to us, the audience, about his impending death. He is engaging, at times humorous, as well as reflective and distressed. So, begins playwright and director Will Eno’s Wakey, Wakey, a meditation on one person’s eventual demise. Michael Emerson, who embodies Guy, gives a powerful, multi-layered performance during this 75-minute production. There is joy, sorrow, and warmth in what is, basically, a 60 minute monologue, interrupted only towards the end of the show by the introduction of Lisa (January LaVoy), a home health attendant. Guy wants to entertain, tell some jokes, and live what is left of his life to the fullest while waiting for the inevitable to occur. Ms. LaVoy is compassionate and understanding in her brief role as the aide to help Guy right up to the end.
The script is ruminative and introspective and can become somewhat wearing with its philosophical ramblings and usage of playful projections. Michael Emerson extracts all there is from the play but, in the end, there is not enough substantive dialogue and technique to carry the show to a fulfilling conclusion. Will Eno, as director, lets loose a barrage of visuals to compensate, but they cannot make-up for the lack of a dramatic arc.
As the production concludes and Guy is wheeled off-stage a torrent of light (by Sound Designer David Lander), sound (Sound Designer Nevin Steinberg), and effects (Projection Designer Peter Negrini) are unleashed, giving the audience a crescendo of death as envisioned by the now deceased character. This focus on death’s finality is continued in the lobby of the Pershing Square Signature Center. There, as theatergoers disperse, they will find an array of food and drink, simulating a Shiva call for a dearly departed friend or family member.
Wakey, Wakey, a thoughtful, sometimes compelling, but not fully satisfactory piece of theater.