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No Wake

Theatre Review by Howard Miller - October 4, 2017

Tricia Small, Stef Tovar, and Tim Ransom
Photo by Carol Rosegg

Playwright William Donnelly's No Wake, opening tonight at 59E59 Theaters, begins just after a memorial service for a young woman who has committed suicide, the long-estranged daughter of a divorced middle-aged couple. But while the expected companions of grief, blame, and self-recrimination are certainly on hand, the play takes a surprising turn and becomes a funny, sad, messy love story.

No Wake takes place at a small inn in Massachusetts, nicely suggested by Tom Buderwitz's compact set design that brings to mind one of those ubiquitous Holiday Inn Express or Days Inn hotels, temporary digs where you might stay for a couple of nights for just such a gathering. The deceased woman's mother Rebecca (Tricia Small) is accompanied by her new husband Roger (Tim Ransom). The father, Rebecca's ex, Edward (Stef Tovar), is there on his own, having insisted that his long-time girlfriend remain at home (you can hear them arguing on the phone).

The play opens at the bar of the inn. Roger, an effusive cheerio Brit who may remind you somewhat of John Cleese, is trying to buck up an understandably gloomy Edward, who counts himself "among the defeated" of the world. But the best Roger can come up with are rambling comic anecdotes about torturing frogs, as he wonders aloud whether he should join the other two when they go the next morning to clear out their daughter's apartment. When Roger, somewhat the worse for wear from too much drinking, wanders off to his room to sleep it off, Edward and Rebecca get together at her instigation to pick at the scabs of their lives: "When I wake up at night and I can't get back to sleep," she says, "the only question knocking against the front of my skull is, how did you create a child who despises you?"

There, of course, can be no answer to such a question. But as the night wears on and Edward and Rebecca spend it together in Edward's room, the pair discover that the more you stir up the ashes, the more likely it is you will find some of them are still glowing. Poor hapless Roger doesn't stand a chance in this lopsided triangle, not even when he grasps the situation and challenges Edward to fisticuffs (choreographed by Ned Mochel as you might expect for an absurd fight between two out-of-shape men in their 40s).

In the end, the question that dangles is whether Edward and Rebecca will be able to move forward together, or even if they should try. That remains decidedly iffy, but at the very least, they will be able to extricate themselves from the numbness of their lives after being stuck in place for a very long time. Thanks to excellent performances by the three cast members under Veronica Brady's knowing direction, the production does a fine job of bringing out both the pain and the human comedy of it all.

No Wake
Through December 15
59E59 Theater C, 59 East 59th Street between Park and Madison
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: TicketCentral

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