The trouble with talky liberals, Lisa Kron seems to say in “In The Wake,” is that they act on assumptions that probably aren’t so.
Notions like life is fair, good will triumph in the end and we can have it all are, after all, attractive and comforting to believe despite the mountain of evidence to the contrary. But the danger of buying in is the possibility of leaving others wounded in your wake.
Ellen (Aubrey Saverino) is the culprit at hand in Kron’s “In The Wake,” an exhaustingly talky, tiresomely sincere though often engaging big-L liberal who, at the top of the play, is glued to CNN on TV, aghast at the proceedings of the disputed 2000 presidential election. (News clips of that and other events of the disastrous-to-liberals Bush decade are tiresomely projected throughout the show).
Ellen is much more concerned about this than housemate/lover Danny (Francis Gercke), a good-natured, take-it-as-it-comes teacher, who this day is trying to keep her on a more even keel. It’s Thanksgiving, after all, and guests are coming – notably Danny’s sister Kayla (JoAnne Glover) and her wife Laurie (DeAnna Driscoll), who conveniently live downstairs. (Pictured in the left photo are Jo Anne Glover, standing, and DeAnna Driscoll.)
There’s another guest – Ellen’s old college friend Judy (Stephanie Dunnam), now a grumpy international aid worker just home from Guinea. Judy sees more clearly than Ellen what really makes the political world work. The determinedly single Judy is also dealing with Tessa, her 16-year-old biracial niece, whose chaotic home life Judy is trying to improve by putting her in an expensive school.
Ellen is so busy being exercised (in torrential word monsoons) about the U.S. pollitical system (though somehow still convinced that things will somehow be all right) that she engages in unthinking behavior of her own, in the form of an affair with Amy (Karson St. John), an experimental filmmaker and former classmate.
Ellen spends an extraordinary amount of time brooding about her “blind spot” – which she can’t even identify or articulate, saying that’s why it’s called blind. If you read the program notes, you’ll find that Kron is really talking about the law of unintended consequences on a national scale, and Ellen is supposed to represent the U.S. I tell you this because I would never have made the connection without those notes.
Unfortunately, knowing that doesn’t make the play any better. Its problem is that it isn’t about anything that isn’t self-evident going in: Ellen is a self-acknowledged pain in the ass; her dalliance with Amy can only leave heartbreak in its wake, just as Judy’s affair with a married man will; American politics will do what it’s always done – favor the wealthy – no matter how much we wish it otherwise.
San Diego Repertory Theatre gives “In The Wake” the best production possible, thanks to some of the area’s finest actors and Delicia Turner Sonnenberg’s snappy direction. And Victoria Petrovich’s fine revolving three-panel set is a definite plus.
Saverino, always a captivating presence, makes Ellen likable even while annoying the heck out of everyone. Gercke is a perfect counterpoint, but one does wonder about the pair as life partners.
The always dependable Driscoll and Glover do not disappoint here, turning in their usual solid performances.
Dunnam is excellent as the war-weary, world-weary Judy, who prefers helping to solve other people’s problems to working on her own. St. John is engaging and affecting as Amy.
“In The Wake” boasts some funny dialogue, but could benefit from a trim of at least 30 minutes of its two and a half hour running time. It could also use a contrasting viewpoint from a stronger character than 16-year-old Tessa, whose presence itself is a bit puzzling.
But the real problem is a lack of meaningful subject matter. Judy asks the pertinent question of Ellen: “How did you live this long without having your heart broken?”
We don’t know, but the answer may just be lack of real commitment. It’s tough for an audience to care about that.
“In The Wake” plays through March 4 at San Diego Repertory Theatre, 79 Horton Plaza.
Thursday through Saturday at 8 pm; Sunday at 2 pm. Some Saturdays at 2; some Sundays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 7 pm.
For tickets, call (619) 544-1000 or visit HERE.
To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.