“The Wake” is a play with a lot of p’s in it: politics, philosophy, polemics, passion, and pathos. And enough plot for two plays. In fact, “The Wake” is two plays. One is the love story: boy loves girl, girl thinks she loves boy, girl loves girl, boy waits it out, girl chooses, everybody loses. The other story is the political one that started in 2000 with the arrival of George W. Bush. Headlines and images adroitly projected on a proscenium arch chronicle the march to war, the belligerent rhetoric, and the disintegration of democracy (both American and Iraqi), mirrored by the anti-war marches, political tirades, and emotional disintegration of our heroine, Ellen (an earnestly passionate Heidi Schreck).
Ellen is aware that she has it all: a loving live-in boyfriend (a beautifully low-key Carson Elrod), his sister and her wife (Andrea Frankle and Danielle Skraastad) just two floors away, and a job she enjoys. But still she yearns for something more.
As she broods in periodic monologues about the “blind spot” in our lives that none of us ever foresees, she also engages in fervent discussions with her cynical, disillusioned friend Judy (Deirdre O’Connell), newly returned from helping out at a refugee camp in Guinea. Judy has given up on Ellen’s world: she doesn’t vote, doesn’t follow current events, doesn’t participate. In fact, she spends most of her time out on Ellen’s fire escape, smoking and avoiding the chaotic discussions going on inside the apartment.
Contrary to what you might assume, “The Wake” has nothing to do with Irish funerals or narrative by James Joyce. It refers to the path we make and the upheaval and debris we leave behind us as we maneuver our way through life. It’s a perfect title for this provocative, overly long-winded journey.
Lisa Kron, who wrote this play, is a founding member of the Obie Award-winning theater company The Five Lesbian Brothers and is the author of the much-acclaimed and Tony-nominated play “Well”. She currently teaches playwriting at the Yale School of Drama.
Leigh Silverman, who directed Kron’s play “Well” on Broadway, also directs “The Wake” during its world premiere run here in Los Angeles and for its upcoming run at New York’s Public Theater. Silverman manages to keep the audience’s attention through the very long introspective speeches—but just barely. At 2 hours, the play is way too long and could really use a judicious wielding of scissors. Especially in the first act, which takes so long to get into gear that you almost lose hope—and interest.
The production qualities are first-rate, however. David Korins has designed a fully functional East Village apartment, Alexander V. Nichols has organized the lighting and projection design superbly, and Cricket S. Myers has done her usual expert job on sound.
This play is not for those who are uncomfortable contemplating their own navel, but for those who are, and who have the patience to stick with it, “The Wake” provides much food for thought. And a lot of debris.
“The Wake” will continue at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd. in Culver City Tuesdays through Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., and Sundays at 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. through April 18. Call (213) 628-2772 for tickets.
Cynthia Citron can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.