×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Off Broadway Review: ‘Wakey Wakey’ Starring Michael Emerson

Signature Theater stages are currently filled with two quite different end-of-life accountings. In one theater there’s Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ expansive, lively and cautionary parable play “Everybody.” But in another, Will Eno takes a more intimate, meditative and open-hearted approach with “Wakey, Wakey,” a work of humor, humanity and grace that makes you want to hug your lover, your neighbor and maybe an usher on the way out. It also offers a captivating, playful and deeply moving performance by Michael Emerson (“Person of Interest,” “Lost”) as a man in his last hour of life presiding over his premature wake, offering perspective, comfort and, in the end, joy and light.

The recent death of Signature’s artistic director James Houghton gently hovers over the piece, but it is not necessary to know that or him to connect with this contemplative production. “It’s important to honor the people whose shoulders we stood upon and fell asleep against,” says Guy (Emerson) as he comes to terms with his life and impending demise. “Nothing is being asked of you here,” he adds, putting the audience at ease in what is clearly a tip-toe situation, one that wavers between the trivial and the profound like the best of conversations among longtime friends.

Guy is first seen in a flash of light on the floor asking, “Is it now? I thought I had more time.” For the rest of this two-hander directed by Eno, Guy is seated in a wheelchair, weak but purposeful, addressing the audience for this “eulogy for the eulogist.” But, as Guy points out after one of his many timely observations, “We’re not here to mope, right?”

Indeed. There’s music, slides, kiddie snapshots, memory games, word puzzles, fun facts, video clips of funny animals and plenty of wry asides — not to mention Eno’s idiosyncratic sensibility — to keep the first half of the piece beguilingly quirky. But there’s also no doubt that “we’re here to say goodbye, of course.”

David Lander’s lighting and Christine Jones’ design clue us to the inevitable changing realities: a suggestion of a tasteful institutional setting, packing boxes and piles of clothing indicating material things that aren’t that important any longer, and a door just off to the side waiting to be opened.

There’s much to say and too little time. “Time is your friend and time is your enemy,” says Guy as he fumbles with his index cards to cue his memory.  There are words of wisdom to impart (“Push yourself a little and go easy on yourself a little”), philosophical questions to ponder (“Where does enjoyment go?”) and a wake-up call or two (“Take care of each other”).

But as Guy physically weakens and his alertness fades, the mood gets drifty. The arrival of a caregiver, Lisa (a luminous January LaVoy), signals that the end is near. Tiny rituals take place; there’s an unexpected peek into Guy’s background; kindness leads to catharsis — and acceptance.

Throughout the play, Eno breaks the fourth wall but here he also suggests a wondrous fifth: a world beyond the memories of the past and the realities of the present and towards the inevitable adjustment nature demands. It’s a loving transition, theatrically told in a sui generis style that is Eno’s own. As Guy would say, “Wowee.”

Off Broadway Review: 'Wakey Wakey' Starring Michael Emerson

More Legit

  • Nantucket Sleigh Ride review

    Off Broadway Review: John Guare's 'Nantucket Sleigh Ride'

    Anyone who doesn’t have a cottage on the Cape or the Islands, as they say in Massachusetts, might be puzzled by the title of John Guare’s new play.  “Nantucket Sleigh Ride” is no Revere Beach amusement park ride, but an old whaling term for the death throes of a whale that is still attached to [...]

  • Kiss Me Kate review

    Broadway Review: 'Kiss Me, Kate'

    No, Kate doesn’t get spanked. And for those wondering how the dicey ending of “Kiss Me, Kate” — that musical mashup of “The Taming of the Shrew” and backstage battling exes — would come across in these more sensitive times, well, that’s also been reconsidered for the Roundabout Theatre Company’s Broadway revival of the Cole [...]

  • Betrayal review Tom Hiddleston

    West End Review: Tom Hiddleston in 'Betrayal'

    It takes three to tango, and Jamie Lloyd’s “Betrayal” completely grasps that. Having made it his mission to modernize the way we stage Harold Pinter’s plays, his chic, stripped-down staging starring Tom Hiddleston as a cuckolded husband might be his best attempt yet. Pared back and played out on an empty stage, this masterful play [...]

  • Johnny Thompson

    Magician Johnny 'The Great Tomsoni' Thompson Dies at 84

    Johnny Thompson, also known as “The Great Tomsoni,” died in Las Vegas on March 9. He was 84. The showman was a versatile performer of music, magic, comedy, and drama throughout his decades long career. Thompson was born to Polish ancestry in Chicago in 1934. He began his career as a musician and musical arranger. [...]

  • The Devil Wears Prada

    'The Devil Wears Prada' Musical Taps Anna D. Shapiro to Direct

    Miranda Priestly can’t call all the shots. The upcoming musical adaptation of “The Devil Wears Prada” has tapped Anna D. Shapiro to direct the show, which is eyeing an eventual Broadway run. The story of an aspiring writer who works for the magazine editor from hell has previously been a best-selling book and a hit [...]

  • Hugh JackmanBrit Awards 2019 Arrivals, London,

    Hugh Jackman Starring in 'The Music Man' Revival on Broadway

    Hugh Jackman will return to Broadway in an upcoming revival of Meredith Willson’s “The Music Man.” It marks Jackman’s first musical role in more than a decade, which should make it a hot ticket. His last one, “The Boy From Oz,” resulted in a Tony Award for best actor. Jackman will play con man Harold [...]

  • Gareth Owen sound design

    Listen: The Secrets of Broadway Sound Design

    Sound design might be the most thankless job on Broadway — because when you get it right, nobody notices. Besides, a lot of theatergoers — and more than a few Tony voters — don’t quite know what it is. Listen to this week’s podcast below: Broadway and West End sound designer Gareth Owen (“Come From [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content