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TRAVEL & ENTERTAINMENT: "Wakey Wakey" Engages Audiences in a Conversation about Life

Feb 07, 2020
by Evan Almdale
“Wakey, Wakey,” a play from Pulitzer Prize-nominee Will Eno, features a guy named Guy (played by two-time Emmy Award winner Tony Hale) who knows, like all of us, that he is about to die. Guy engages the audience in a conversation about life and what is worth celebrating, what is worth treasuring, and what is worth letting go in this moving, yet humorous play.

Though the man telling the jokes is sitting down (he’s in a wheelchair), dying is a stand-up routine in “Wakey, Wakey,” currently performing at A.C.T.’s Geary Theater (415 Geary St.) in San Francisco through February 16. Portrayed with a blend of pretty much every emotion there is by Mr. Hale, the monologuist at the center of this resonant “tragicomedy” is the M.C. of his own demise, the chief eulogist at his funeral.

“Is it now?” asks Guy, when the audience first sees him, sprawled on the floor of a room. “I thought I had more time.”

Guy makes it perfectly clear as he addresses the audience from his wheelchair in the scenes that follow that he is here on divine sufferance, which one might take as a description of human existence itself. Yet, he does his best to entertain the audience with all the means at the disposal of his waning faculties — word games and gags, etc.

Making death a public statement can become an occasion for sentimentality, and especially for stunning final curtain lines. Because, really, what is there to say when you’re standing right next to death? That’s a question that no philosopher can answer with unconditional assurance.

But the human urge is to keep thinking and talking, for as long as the expiring body allows. This is good news, especially if you’re this character embodied by Mr. Hale, who taps into the business of possibly breathing his last.

The audience doesn’t really learn many of the particulars of Guy’s existence. Only with the late arrival of Lisa (the gracious Kathryn Smith-McGlynn), a home-care aide, does the audience discover that he used to be a children’s swimming and diving coach. As his name suggests, Guy is “Everyman.”

What stands out with Mr. Hale’s performance is how universal it is, saying that, yes, we all die, but we all die as individuals. But if, in the midst of life, we are in death, it is also true that in the midst of death, we are in life.

Mr. Hale’s cherishing of the physical world is enhanced by a design team that includes Kimie Nishikawa (scenic designer), Russell H. Champa (lighting), Leah Gelpe (sound and projections).

But the show’s most dazzling special effect is Mr. Hale himself. “People looked scared, happy, tired, curious, ready. That’s life, irreducible and infinite in its finiteness. And he captures every one of those conflicting, yet harmonious elements in every breath he takes.

“Wakey, Wakey” is a profoundly moving work of humor, humanity, and grace that collectively encompasses the mystery of life. In other words, it makes one smile as one exits the theater, and is well worth the visit.

For tickets or more information please phone (415) 749-2228 or visit www.act-sf.org.

* * * * *

Photo caption: Guy (Tony Hale) projects images of people and places in Will Eno’s “Wakey, Wakey” performing at A.C.T.’s Geary Theater now through Sunday, February 16, 2020. (Photo credit: Kevin Berne)


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