No Wake: Drowning In The Current, and In Life.
The title of William Donnelly’s compelling new play, No Wake at 59E59 Theaters, courtesy of Route 66 Theatre Company and Bella Vista Entertainment, has a two fold meaning. It’s a play on the word and a strong metaphoric direction to the characters in this solid relationship drama. The term, ‘wake’ has to do with the funereal event and also a sign to boats in the water to be careful. It is a cautionary warning to these three interconnected characters as they attempt to move forward in their world. The play is more about surviving rather than mourning, and although all three characters in No Wake are trying hard to deal with tragedy, Donnelly has more to say about being tested and challenged in a matrimonial relationship. As directed by Veronica Brady (Malibu Playhouse’s Butterflies Are Free) with an edge to humorous and real interplay, No Wake is layered with authentic and touching moments flowing through the undercurrent. Even with the disappointment to come in the final ten minutes, the characters are soaked in authentic reactions and attachment.
A formerly married couple have come together at an inn in Camden, Massachusetts for an achingly sad funeral (solid work by the design team of set: Tom Buderwitz; costumes: Michael Mullen; lighting: Brian Tovar; and sound: Lindsay Jones). Nolan, played with a nervous sad twitch by the talented Stef Tovar (59E59’s A Twist of Water) finds himself defeated and trembling with sadness over this personal tragedy, while also at a crossroads with his current girlfriend. Trying to numb himself at the inn’s bar, he is finds himself in the company of his ex-wife’s current husband, Padgett, expertly played by the gifted Tim Ransom (Hulu’s The Handmaids Tale). It’s a funny and lovingly written moment between these two very different men, and it only breeds an understanding of them both.
Arriving soon to dismantle these two from the drunken camaraderie is the sweet and sad Rebecca, played by the wonderful Tricia Small (the LA premiere of The Last Five Years). There is an odd sense of detachment residing in Rebecca. She seems wide awake, and pulled together. Nolan seems to be the one left holding all the grief, so much so that at first it feels like the tragedy is more his to steer through then hers, but as we float through this fascinating exploration of relationships, divorce, and the true everlasting quality of love and attachment, we soon discover she has plenty to hold on to herself. Much like someone standing up in a row boat in waves, she is trying hard not to fall over board into the current. She fears her sadness and grief as much as the waves surrounding them. During moments at the beginning of this play, I wanted more from this mother and ex-wife. I wanted that tremor, that rawness, and shakiness that Nolan is barely concealing, but as it was pointed out to me by my companion, funerals are structures that help give those affected a distraction from grief. They give order, focus, and activity, and as it slowly moves forward into the faux wake, Rebecca is given her moment to descend into the murky water of grief, and for us to witness the aftermath or consequences of this personal tragedy. It’s not quite enough to salvage her emotionally for us, but it’s a relief, in a way, to see her final affected.
Beyond the nautical metaphor, the whole play is basically, a wake for the dead, even though there will not be one officially. This is essentially a vigil held around, maybe not the actual body of the person who has died, but definitely around the idea of the lost soul, with far too many drinks consumed and lousy inn food eaten. The three try hard not to be dragged out into the sea by the strong undertow, and through the actors solid and human approach to each other, they generally succeed, especially as they try not to drown in their sorrow. I only wish the ending lived up to all the beautiful work these three have given us so far. A metaphor and a connection to the past are tossed in our direction, but without much attachment to the emotional present. No Wake stumbles and falls into the waves at the end without much insight or denouement. We are left to fend for ourselves in the trail of disturbed water left by the passage of these souls with nothing decided or made clear.