Broadway Features and Reviews
In The Wake: New Play Dawns At Berkeley Rep
By Linda Hodges, Broadway Magazine
"In the Wake," now premiering at the Berkeley Repertory Theater, is a challenging, intellectually searing look at life during the Bush years. It is a daunting task that playwright Lisa Kron takes on: how to show the blind spots that allowed conservative malfeasance while simultaneously shining a spotlight on liberal thinking and middleclass privilege. What's missing is a hard look at white privilege, which would have fit neatly into the mix.
For liberals in the audience, the sophisticated political speak and virtuous, my-heart's-in-the-right place indignation is at once familiar and at times awkwardly cumbersome to watch on the stage.
It's a toss-up as to whether the seat squirming was due to the content of the show or the fact that the show edges very close to the three hour mark. Kron counts on the audience being able to see themselves reflected in the character of Ellen (Heidi Schreck) – a politically charged and opinionated liberal who laments the lurching turbulence being caused by the Bush years during which the show takes place. How this will play in Peoria is truly an apt question.
In the opening monologue Ellen, speaking of the Bush presidency, telling us that it's as if we're in a broken down car but no one knows it. We just keep going along thinking that everything is fine when in reality it's broken. Little does she realize then that this blind spot in the American people is also a fixture of her own life and the choices she is making. It is this parallel that Kron works out in ways big and small as the show progresses.
In case we've forgotten what the Bush-Cheney decade wrought, the proscenium, awash in blue, as if to soften the Red State effect of the decade's wreckage, flashes news clippings and pictures of the era with jaw-tightening, grimace producing effect. Alexander Nichols' projections are cogent and telling. It's the sour back-story right out in front reminding us that the wounds are still fresh.
And indeed they are fresh. News of the hanging Chad debacle blares from the television (sound design by Cricket S. Myers) in Ellen and her boyfriend Danny's East Village apartment as they prepare to share Thanksgiving dinner with family and friends.
The scenic design by David Korins is genius laid bare. The detail that went into making the apartment feel so lived-in and ordinary are remarkable, not to mention the fire escape landing which is picture perfect.
The easy-going and affable Danny (played perfectly by Carson Elrod) is the antithesis of the fuming, unbending and indignant Ellen who is ranting at the television as Danny's sister Laurie (Danielle Skraastad) and her wife Kayla (Andrea Frankle) arrive with their Thanksgiving Day offerings.
Danny's injection of humor, combined with the stable and happy lesbian couple provide a nice foil for the churning backdrop of the Bush-Cheney years and Ellen's own conflicted self-absorption.
In the back room, just returned from field work in Africa, is Ellen's friend Judy, a hardened, middle-aged soldier for the cause played by noted actress Deirdre O'Connell who is superb in this role. O'Connell's portrayal is immediate, savvy and well-rounded, her instincts as an actress being brought to bear to incisive effect. In her veteran hands, Judy is the embodiment of a liberal who walks the walk and who refuses to get caught up in political games or romanticized idealism.
It is Judy's grounded, boots-on-the-ground liberalism that eventually stops Ellen short as she talks (and talks) about all the pain and problems she's experiencing in her personal life. Ellen has entered into a romantic relationship with a charismatic filmmaker named Amy (Emily Donahoe) -- a relationship that Danny accepts as important to Ellen's personal journey -- and it is floundering. Disillusioned that she couldn't make herself "big enough to deal with it" she struggles to make sense of it all. Her own personal decisions are the playwright's microcosm for the flotsam and jetsam left behind by the Bush administration – her own wake leaving a trail of hurt friends and loved one behind her. "How far do I have to fall," she asks?
Judy's clearly focused response to the system of American politics in general and to Ellen's own blind spots as a privileged American in particular provide the longed for denouement to the play. It is over and after a final monologue we are left with thought-provoking questions, plenty of fodder for liberal navel gazing and a better understanding of what can happen in the wake of a disaster of national proportions.
Kron paints a word picture portrait with her play that will be startlingly familiar to many bay area liberals – friends that work for NGOs or volunteer with non-profits – everyone up on the latest and greatest crisis country de jour. Everyone gathering signatures and attending marches. But what she fails to make clear, as her heroine laments the millions of tiny changes that conservatives have made in order to make the Bush years possible, is that liberals also effect change in their own way. It is these millions of tiny acts that may have been what have now ushered in the Obama years.
"In The Wake"
Written By Lisa Kron
Directed By Leigh Silverman
In association with Center Theatre Group
May 14 – June 27, 2010
Running time: 2 hours and 45 minutes,
including one 15 minute intermission
Berkeley Repertory Theatre: http://www.berkeleyrep.org
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