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Theater Review: The Wake: How to Destroy Your Family

Lisa Kron has a lot to say in her new play, The Wake. The problem is she’s saying a wee bit too much, packing multiple heady, on-the-nose political debates into a triangular love story that examines traditional family roles and classism. The writing is exceedingly smart, but the drama unfolds at a tiring, wordy clip.

At the center of the story is Ellen (Heidi Schreck), who, as evidenced by her incessant displays of self-absorption, fancies herself the center of the universe. She’s in love with Danny (an incredibly endearing Carson Elrod), a nice guy who basically does her bidding. But Ellen is a restless soul, a journalist whose favorite pastime is coming down hard on right wing America. It’s the start of the Bush-Cheney reign, and Ellen is understandably disgusted. Her heart and mind are in the right place when she interrupts a low-key Thanksgiving dinner in her cozy East Village apartment by turning on the TV news and demanding a recount. She can’t help herself, and it’s this inability to contain her thoughts and emotions that begins to repel the people she loves. In addition to Danny, there’s his sister, Kayla (Andrea Frankle) and her wife, Laurie (Danielle Skraastad), both of whom Ellen considers family. When Ellen meets Amy (Emily Donahoe) she further widens the growing chasm between herself and her family by jumping into bed with this vibrant woman. Amy is an intellectual, a force of a woman, everything Danny is not. Danny is okay with the affair for a while, until he’s not…

The political climate mirrors Ellen’s personal climate, and the weather is stormy on both fronts. Thus, Kron succeeds in melding the outer world with her protagonist’s inner world and she certainly deserves kudos for that. But it’s really hard to root for the protagonist when she’s hurting people left and right, while continually focusing on her own pain, a pain that is self-inflicted.

The most enlightened and effective character here is Judy (played stunningly by Deirdre O’Connell), a relief worker in Africa who joins Ellen and company for Thanksgiving. She’s a dull, pessimistic, virtually mute downer in Act I, who ends up displaying a complex, fully realized point of view in Act II, launching into a monologue that, thank God, leaves Ellen just slightly speechless – for a little while, anyway.

Through April 18 at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd. Call 213.628.2772.


Mirror Contributing

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