Wakey, Wakey
Photo: Kevin Berne

Wakey, Wakey

Written by Will Eno
Directed by Anne Kauffman
Starring Tony Hale
American Conservatory Theater (ACT)
Geary Theater, San Francisco
Through February 16, 2020

Two-time Emmy Award-winning actor Tony Hale (Gary on “Veep,” Buster on “Arrested Development”) returned to the stage for the first time in 17 years to star in “Wakey, Wakey,” by Will Eno.  And on opening night, Hale did himself proud. As the character named “Guy,” Hale sat in a wheelchair alone on the vast Geary Theater stage for most of the approximately 75-minute production, and addressed the audience about life and death, ostensibly, his own impending death. It’s unfortunate that his material wasn’t up to his performance.

In between Hale’s portrayal of physical symptoms, misspeaking and forgetfulness, he imbued Guy with an understated range of human emotions, from love of life, to uncertainty, and to acceptance of its end. In between, Guy inexpertly projected slides, re-read and tried to understand his index cards, and attempted to converse with the audience. His point, if he had one, was that it’s important to appreciate life, to enjoy all its small pleasures, and to be kind to children and small animals.

Lisa a caregiver, (well-played by Kathryn Smith-McGlynn), joined Guy mid-point through the production. She brought a sense of assurance and normality to “Wakey, Wakey,” with her calm control and friendly, though professional manner. In the end, she led Guy, or his body, from the stage. Afterward, sentimental and saccharin videos of picnics and baseball games were projected. And if that weren’t cheesy enough, soap bubbles wafted through the air and balloons were dropped from the stage.

And just so you know, that’s the whole plot of “Wakey, Wakey.” Perhaps playwright Eno (Pulitzer Prize finalist for “Thom Pain (based on nothing)” imagined that Guy would speak as an Everyman, that his inarticulateness would emulate a Samuel Beckett-like universality. Unfortunately, that did not turn out to be the case, at least for this reviewer. Instead, the rambling, hesitant and faltering monologue lacked purpose, philosophy and principle. When one of the best attributes of a play is its short length, it’s in serious trouble. 

Under the direction of Anne Kauffman, the show’s creative team included Joe Goode (Choreographer), Kimie Nishikawa (Scenic and Costume Designer), Russell H. Champa (Lighting Designer), and Leah Gelpe (Sound and Projection Designer).

“Wakey, Wakey” was preceded by a beguiling short companion piece, “The Substitution,” also by Will Eno, and also featuring Kathryn Smith-McGlynn, this time as a substitute teacher at a community college. It contained an inviting spark of action, controversy, and creativity that was sadly lacking in “Wakey, Wakey.”

By Emily S. Mendel


©Emily S. Mendel  2020    All Rights Reserved.

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Emily S. Mendel, a writer and photographer, has been a regular contributor to culturevulture.net since 2006, where she reviews theater, art, film, television and destinations. Ending her 30-year law practice has given Ms. Mendel the time to indulge in her love of travel and the arts, and to serve as the theater reviewer for berkeleyside.com.