A divorced couple reunites at the funeral of their mentally unstable daughter who committed suicide. The woman has remarried and the man is adrift.
Rebecca is now remarried to Padgett, a boozy Englishman who works for a pharmaceutical company. Her ex-husband Nolan has gone from one girlfriend to another since they split up. This trio is at an inn in Camden, Massachusetts, to commemorate Sukey (born Susan) who was initially missing and apparently drowned herself.
In 85 minutes, we really don’t learn much Rebecca, Nolan or Sukey as Mr. Donnelly imparts scant biographical details about them, but strangely does for Padgett. Donnelly takes the perennial premise of a divorced couple’s past romantic feelings for each other being reignited and clumsily tosses in the dramatic, morbid bombshell. His glum and stilted finale at Sukey’s apartment is out of Private Lives. The title refers to Sukey’s wish that when she dies that there be no wake.
In the flashy role of Padgett, the animated Tim Ransom steals the show with his delightful channeling of the young John Cleese. Whether yammering scientifically on about frogs, tossing back shots of whiskey or passionately erupting, Mr. Ransom is commanding.
Constrained by their underwritten characters and banal dialogue, the charming and talented Stef Tovar and Tricia Small, as Nolan and Rebecca, respectively, flail around earnestly.
With such poor material and a confined playing area, all director Veronica Brady can do is skillfully position the actors and keep the pace up. Fight director Ned Mochel has crafted an expertly staged battle between the two men that borders on slapstick and is out of place with the sad events.
Scenic designer Tom Buderwitz’s settings for the hotel room, bar and apartment are appropriately drab. Brian Tovar’s lighting design proficiently illuminates the actions. Scene transitions are punctuated by Lindsay Jones’ sound design of cool, jazz recordings. The characters are basically represented by Michael Mullen’s costume design.
No Wake is an off kilter and dull blend of farce, tragedy and boulevard comedy.
The play was first performed at the Berkshire Theater Festival, and was later produced in Los Angeles and Chicago. This is its New York City premiere.
No Wake (through October 15, 2017)
Route 66 Theatre Company and Bella Vita Entertainment
59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-279-4200 or visit http://www.59e59.org
Running time: 85 minutes with no intermission
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