The pivotal event in William Donnelly’s digressive three-character one act No Wake is the suicide of an angry young woman named Suki, long alienated from her middle-aged parents for reasons they’ve never understood. Set in a bar and a hotel room, it takes place shortly after the funeral, focusing on the interchange among the now divorced couple, Nolan (Stef Tofar) and Rebecca (Tricia Small), and Rebecca ‘s new husband, Padgett (Raymond Fox), a loquacious Brit if ever there was one.
I describe the play as digressive because, as it progresses, it becomes something entirely different from what one’s been led to expect. Instead of a drama about parental guilt and grief, or what makes a person intractably hostile regardless of what you do (a really interesting question, I think), its primary terrain is examining the ins and outs of a broken marriage and what happens to a new relationship when the ghost of an old one appears.
Some great plays have been written around these things, and No Wake offers textured dialogue and layered characters. But tracking these individuals when they abandon concern for the dead person to engage in bickering, flirting, reminiscing about the first date and whatnot, drops the ante quite a bit. We never do get much of a picture of what Suki was really like or the intimate workings of this family — only vague, inexplicit references. It’s a basic flaw in the play itself, one that the production, an import from Chicago directed by Kimberly Senior at the VS Theatre on Pico, only fitfully distracts us from. Besides Senior, the show utilizes two of the original cast members, Tofar and Fox, while Tricia Small replaces Lia Mortenson as Rebecca.
Fox is spot on as a very proper British professional who is nonetheless primed to defend any real or imagined assault on his machismo. Tofar is wonderful to watch in the opening scenes as he listens with half a world-weary ear to Padgett’s ramblings; when he starts his dialogue, though, it’s too evident he’s spoken these lines before. Small, however, is out of her depth in an underdeveloped portrayal that gives scant evidence of the character’s inner life.
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