“We are theater makers not filmmakers. So, the challenge has been to find a way to present a play that reflects that,” said Merely Players Director Mona Wood-Patterson. “I chose Will Eno’s ‘WAKEY, WAKEY’ because it is adaptable to a new format.”
And, she said, “I got special permission from the author to do so.”
Beginning Saturday and running only two weekends, Merely Players will offer Eno’s remarkable one-act play on Zoom.
Described as “a short, resonant tragicomedy” by Ben Brantley, drama critic for The New York Times, “WAKEY, WAKEY” opened Off Broadway in 2017 at the Pershing Square Signature Center in Midtown.
It’s a two-character play, focusing on Guy, an Everyman, and Lisa, his caretaker. The work explores our shared sense of mortality.
“The script states that Guy is ‘male, 30s to 40s, youthful looking but might suddenly look gaunt or unwell in the wrong (right) lighting. He’s in a wheelchair,” Wood-Patterson said.
In the Merely Players’ production, Guy has been transformed into Guye, an Everywoman (Elizabeth Gray). She dominates the first part of the play in an extended monologue marked by existential candor and humor, spritzed with word-play and a sense of the absurd. Brantley likened Eno’s universe to that of both Samuel Beckett and Edward Albee, but “warmer and less magisterial.”
Casting Gray turned out to be “just right,” Wood-Patterson said. “We didn’t need to age her because Elizabeth is unbelievably right in the age group described in the script.”
Gray is known for her long list of local credits beginning way back at Durango High School and other more recent Merely Players’ productions. My personal favorite was her smart-savvy Joan in “Dames at Sea.”
After first leaving Durango, Gray went on to study and graduate from New York University’s Tisch School of Arts and the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London.
“Most of the show is a monologue by Elizabeth, “Wood-Patterson said. “She is astonishing in her range, moving from a person who starts this show with enthusiasm to one who struggles with pain and confusion.
“About two-thirds into the play, Jessica Jane Harris joins as Lisa the caretaker. Together, they create something really special, and both actors are utterly convincing.”
Harris is also known locally, most recently performing as Sophie in “Mamma Mia!” and most memorably as the lead in “Mary Poppins.”
Merely Players seems to be embracing and inventing a singular universe of virtual play performance. Wood-Patterson persuaded the playwright to grant permission to create an online version of “WAKEY, WAKEY,” as well as reimagining the lead as an Everywoman.
“I decided to go for the concept that Guye is dying alone and wants to share with her loved ones on Zoom,” she said. “The show is supposed to look Zoom-presentation-esque.”
Anyone who saw “ZOOM Alice,” presented earlier this year by the Players, witnessed a highly creative approach to this new theatrical hybrid.
“We do not want our show to look like a static film of a play,” Wood-Patterson said.
And, by all accounts, Wood-Patterson is reinventing the form with each production.
Judith Reynolds is an arts journalist and member of the American Theatre Critics Association.