Imagine for a moment that you are terminally ill, and someone suggests to you that you should gather all your friends and relatives in one place – a theater, say? – so you could say goodbye. Would you do it? Would you feel that you would have enough to say to everyone? This is the premise to Will Eno's play Wakey, Wakey, now showing at Manbites Dog Theater. Manbites has selected this incredibly apt one-act show for its final production at the now-famous theater on Foster Street in Durham. It has been a long and sometimes-devastating, often-uplifting ride for those in the Triangle who have watched the troupe grow from a small itinerant group to a major voice in local theatre.
Wakey, Wakey is just the perfect play for saying goodbye. Eno puts his character center stage and lets him go, allowing a stream of consciousness ramble that touches on many subjects. Derrick Ivey played this character, Guy, beautifully, with deep understanding and more energy than a man at his end might exhibit. Guy has tried valiantly to prepare for this moment, but he finds himself at a loss when presented with all these people; his massive stack of cue cards no longer seems adequate to the purpose. More than once he says, as I'm sure many, many people have, "I thought I had more time."
Director Jeff Storer puts Guy and his wheelchair in a large meeting room that is designed for multi-media; there is a bank of projectors and sound equipment at Guy's disposal, all regulated by his hand remote. The walls of the room serve as projector screens, displaying everything from playful animals, to fireworks, to a star-studded night sky. Ivey handled that chair like a man used to being confined in this way. He pumped his way up and down a ramp to the raised dais many times with seemingly little effort. But what I found most to admire, and have a true awe of, is Ivey's ability to carry all of this monologue in his head and deliver it with such a true and devastatingly human control and understanding. This is not a simple monologue. Guy's topics mix and flow and drop away and return, and we are never sure what's next to come. Sometimes, when he finds himself at a loss, Guy rings the bell on his chair, for aid. But no aid comes.
At least, not right away. An aide does finally arrive, Lisa (Lakeisha Coffee, who recently finished a savagely wonderful run as Gidion's mother in Gidion's Knot/Bartlett Theatre). She is a model of efficiency, helping Guy with prompts, encouraging him to continue, wrapping his brow with a cooling cloth; but she is there only to accommodate, not to intrude.
Guy touches on many subjects that many individuals who are contemplating their end must also have analyzed, but in his declining state, he can no longer focus on them. Ivey plays this lack of retention magnificently, always with a touch of embarrassment at his failing senses. Eno is one who has examined life at its end in many of his plays, and he is getting consistently better at it as his plays continue.
Jeff Storer and Ed Hunt of Manbites have brought to Durham and the Triangle many thought-provoking and sometimes even mysterious plays, all of which have left us examining something we might not have been exposed to otherwise. It has been a long and exciting run, and we are all looking forward to the next step. Wakey, Wakey runs at Manbites Dog for a full month, closing Sunday, June 10. Manbites lists June 1 as a Special Event. We've already saved the date.
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