Wakey, Wakey: There’s a call for you

Publicity photo for Wakey, Wakey.

Actor Craig Erickson in front of a video by Wladimiro A. Woyno R. (Photo by Chelsey Stuyt Photography)

I’ve never been more alert to shimmering life than in the weeks preceding my friend Len’s assisted death. Presence was the gift of their passing.

That’s also the substance of Will Eno’s Wakey, Wakey, which is seamlessly well realized in Pacific Theatre’s production.

“Is it now?” Guy asks, lying on the floor the first time we see him. “I thought I had more time.” A bit later he says, “I hope we can agree that here we are.” There you go.

For the majority of this two-hander, Guy (Craig Erickson) speaks to us in an extended monologue. It’s nicely disorienting, but never incomprehensible. As he flips through note cards that say things like “Something about anxiety” and lights up wall-sized projections to show us word puzzles and photos of his childhood, Guy is clearly a man struggling to make meaning. He also looks a lot like a playwright — assembling pieces, figuring out how they fit.

In the audience, we’re also part of the theatrical equation. Wakey Wakey’s alertness to presence makes it perfectly theatrical — and invites our participation. Theatre is all about embodied, in-the-moment, shared experience. And, through Guy, Eno deepens that for us. Guy encourages us to physically expand the structure of our brains by listening to specific words, for instance. And he invites us to close our eyes and experience gratitude for someone who had a positive influence in our lives.

Eno is far, far too clever to ever let this get sentimental. Guy is never quite sure that the exercises he’s proposing will work — and he’s hilarious. In one of my favourite lines, he says, “Never a dull moment”, then pauses and reconsiders, “Well maybe not never.”

Erickson is stellar as Guy. Timing is about connecting internal thought processes to the feeling in the room and Erickson is so seasoned that his connective wires are as clear as fibre optics — and have similar load capacity.

Late in the game, a caregiver named Lisa (Agnes Tong) arrives. Subtly, in Erickson’s performance, Guy’s philosophical and comedic assurance shifts when she gets there; his ruminations start to look like dementia.

Director Kaitlin Williams has just taken over as artistic director of Pacific Theatre. Wakey, Wakey is her first in-house show in that role and it’s a smart, generous debut.

One of a director’s central tasks is to figure out who to work with and Williams has assembled a creamy team. Tong’s characterization is grounded, frank, and kind. Composer Mary Jane Coomber’s score is just abstract enough to allow Guy spin when he reacts to it: Guy is never quite sure the sound design is working. Amazingly, set designer Amir Ofek makes the tiny Pacific Theatre stage look spacious by clearing it out and, I think, by framing it with horizontal lines across the top. The two side walls of the playing area become projection surfaces for Wladimiro A. Woyno R.’s huge, sometimes trippy projections. Lighting designer Chengyan Boon even lights the audience.

Near the end of the single act, Guy says, “The world. The world” and repeats, “I thought I had more time.” It’s moving, but, in its essence, Wakey, Wakey is not a boo-hoo kind of thing. It’s more like, “Wow. Wow.”

WAKEY, WAKEY By Will Eno. Directed by Kaitlin Williams. A Pacific Theatre production at Pacific Theatre on Friday, October 1. Continues until October 23. Tickets

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About Colin Thomas

Colin Thomas is a Vancouver-based editor, an award-winning playwright, and an established theatre critic. Colin helps writers unlock the full potential of their novels, short stories, screenplays, and children's books.

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