We first meet Guy (Michael Emerson) passed out on the floor in his pajamas. Lights out.
When the lights come back on, he is in a wheelchair, alone in a room surrounded by boxes, a free-standing door, and a wall where photos and videos can be flashed. "Is it time yet? Guy asks. "We're here to say good-bye and maybe hopefully also get better at saying hello. To celebrate Life, if that doesn't sound too passive-aggressive." Designed by Christine Jones, the set gives a feeling of transition, and Guy has things he wants to say in this time he is given.
Wakey Wakey is playwright/director Will Eno's elegant and gently sad 75-minute play at Pershing Square Signature Center about a dying man. It is not that Guy wants to die, but that's how it is and the best way to deal with death is by making the ordinary in life, even the disagreeable, worth remembering. Although Guy's stream-of-consciousness monologue comes in a disjointed start-and-stop way — as he refers to his notes on index cards and tucked in a pocket on the side of his wheelchair, it is surprisingly illuminating.
Directed by Will Eno, Guy is a thoughtful self-aware person, with a dry sense of humor that recognizes a too-solemn moment when, "A joke would be good, right around here." He offers meditative exercises encouraging us to picture someone else and just carry that picture through the day. "That's supposed to help you sleep, they say. And, actually, they say it can help you stay awake, too. So, good for a lot of things. Being able to picture someone else and just carry your picture through the day."
Production values are stellar. Guy has a remote clicker that flashes Peter Nigrini's projections on the wall, pictures of a baby, a toddler and a young boy, perhaps himself. Adding sound design by Nevin Steinberg includes screaming animals, dogs, cats, wild animals, not barking or growling but screaming, loudly and emphatically. The play's vigorous ending recalls these segments in an extravagant finale celebration.
As caretaker, Lisa (January LaVoy), is a outstanding as a warm supportive presence, here to do whatever has to be done. This play has little physical activity, but when Guy dozes off, Lisa gracefully dances in long, stretching moments, perhaps for exercise, although her kind patience seems to be invoking a nurturing spirit around the patient.
Emerson is remarkable as Guy, a likable and reflective man whose nuanced facial expressions reflect amusement as well as the stings of discomfort, pain, thirst. As Guy grows closer to the end, he loses focus, becomes weaker and at times confused. Before our eyes, he shrinks into his body, his eyes still expressive. As new images appear to him, his voice fades, ending with a final message to us, "Take care of each other."
As Lisa wheels Guy off the stage, she clicks on the screen. We are dazzled by photos flashing backwards in time as the theater fills with resounding music and blazing lights, bubbles and balloons floating down and baskets placed on the stage offering fortune cookies, plastic wristbands and tee-shirts. On the screen, a little boy waves bye-bye. Lights out.
We leave the theater touched by the spirit of Guy and his words, "Time is your friend and time is your enemy. We can choose which, for a while." Outside the lobby, a table is set with coffee cake, figs and punch.