A play about a man facing the end of his life? Sounds depressing, no?
It isn’t, not with Urbanite Theatre’s production of Will Eno’s Wakey, Wakey. Yes, this show—a one-act two-hander with much of the running time allotted only to that man—may bring a tear to your eye now and then. But it may bring a smile to your face or a bit of uplift to your heart as well.
That’s what the man, simply called Guy (James FitzGerald, in a fine, nuanced performance), is trying to do for us, after all. He knows he’s dying; when we first spot him in a burst of light, he’s prostrate on the floor, asking the question, “Is it now? I thought I had more time.” (Don’t we all?) But when we next see him, in his wheelchair in a room dotted with packing boxes, he speaks to us not only of death, but of life and its precious moments.
That he’s weak, and ill, FitzGerald makes clear with his subtle but crucial facial expressions and gestures, along with the note cards his trembling hands hold to help remind him of what he wants to tell us before he goes. He’s greatly aided by the sound design of Alex Pinchin and the projections of Zachary Hines; as he clicks a small remote control, a screen behind him shows us sometimes funny images (animals screaming), sometimes surprisingly touching ones (children eating ice cream).
Eno’s play is low-key and a little unconventional, and FitzGerald’s delivery intentionally halting at times, as befits a sick man. And, in Urbanite’s intimate setting, there’s absolutely no getting away from Guy’s gaze, or from the questions he asks us, as when he wants audience members to close their eyes and summon up the image of a person, living or dead, we want to communicate with.
That may make some people uncomfortable (perhaps the reason one couple left early on the night I attended the show), but for those willing to go along with the process, there are emotional rewards. When the play’s only other character, Guy’s caring, cheerful aide, Lisa (Brittney M. Caldwell), arrives with a bottle of children's bubbles, we’re reminded once again of how the small, ordinary things in life, the ones we so often take for granted, can be the ones that also make our day.
Director Brendan Ragan has just the right touch for this feeling but never mawkish play, which should have you walk out vowing to make the most of life’s simple gifts. Wakey, Wakey continues through Sept. 2; for tickets call 321-1397 or go to urbanitetheatre.com.