In Will Eno’s effective but terribly sad play “Wakey, Wakey,” a Signature Theatre presentation, we meet Michael Emerson as Guy, who is confined to a wheelchair and faces his inevitable death. He is certainly not ready to go, but contemplates death by ruminating about life. And therein we see the heart of the play, the putting a value on living while one exists, and thus being able to face the end of life with resignation.
“Is it time?” Guy asks fatalistically at one point. No, it isn’t time yet, and there is more of an opportunity to philosophize, even as he grows weaker.
Guy’s contemplations include telling us that every day 100,000 people die somewhere, and it was 100,000 the day before and another 100,000, the day before that. Call it perspective.
Emerson’s performance is remarkable. What he does with facial expressions will leave you deeply moved. As the end approaches his face is wracked with a combination of pain, bewilderment and fatalism, all fused to poignant dramatic effect.
The author, who also is the director, energizes the play with projections, some that Guy clicks onto a screen. Shots of Guy’s childhood and those of other children make the point of life’s span. We see animal life, including a mass of penguins waddling along as if in a procession. Toward the end, bubbles fall on the audience from the ceiling, as if to celebrate life.
Eno has added a character, Lisa, played sympathetically by January LaVoy, who acts as Guy’s care giver. Or she may be more than that—symbolically leading Guy in the transition from life to death.
“Wakey, Wakey” is highly sensitive theater that may touch raw nerves of those who have lost or are in the process of losing a loved one. On the other hand, it can also provide a note of courage and understanding. At the Pershing Square Signature Center, 480 West 42nd Street. Phone: 212-244-7529. Reviewed March 3, 2017.