The Wake -- Theater Review

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Meet Ellen. Smart as a whip. Liberal. Outspoken. Compassionate. Committed. Knows all the right answers to all the right questions. Knows that everyone has a blind spot, but ... not quite sure what hers is.

Lisa Kron's absorbing new play, "The Wake," is largely about how Ellen (Heidi Schreck) discovers her blind spot -- or spots -- and what a devastating effect it has on her and those around her. Although the play is talky, because Ellen is talky, much of it is good talk, and some of it is very good.

The story begins in the wake of the disputed Bush-Gore presidential election of 2000. Ellen and Danny (Carson Elrod), the man she loves, are entertaining friends at Thanksgiving in their East Village apartment, and it's clear the news on TV is upsetting Ellen more than anyone else. It doesn't take much to agitate Ellen, a journalist who wears her passion for politics like a red badge of courage. She has much to say on every issue but appears to have more faith in the American political system than her friends, a married lesbian couple, Kayla and Laurie (Andrea Frankle and Danielle Skraastad, respectively), and a woman, Judy (Deirdre O'Connell), just back from a detention camp in Guinea, where she worked as a protection officer.

A few months later, Ellen is bowled over by Amy (Emily Donahoe), a perceptive filmmaker she meets with interesting ideas of her own, and before long the two start an affair. Ellen appears to be enjoying the best of both worlds at first as easygoing Danny looks the other way, but after a while, things get complicated, then painful for all concerned.

Ellen, it seems, doesn't like to make hard choices. She has been educated to believe in the limitless promise of "more" -- more freedom, love, "brave adventures," self-fulfillment, more of everything good -- and she's painfully discovering that life has limits obvious to most people unless you have blind spots, of which she appears to have more than most. Told against images of the political twists and turns of the Bush administration, one is left to surmise that a culture also has blind spots, of which America might have more than most.

Adding to her dilemma, Ellen finds that her friends don't always agree with her politics, either. But this has more to do with her optimistic faith in the system than in any real political differences. In fact, a genuine conservative voice in this play would make it truly provocative.

The cast is excellent under Leigh Silverman's astute direction, with Schreck giving a many-layered performance of admirable transparency. She has many words to navigate and does so with great heart and sensitivity to the character's complexity.

O'Connell's cynical Judy is a strangely compelling character, never more so than when she explains to Ellen why she doesn't believe in the system. Frankle and Skraastad are each sharp and persuasive as the lesbian couple. Donahoe has a convincing seduction scene explaining the intricacies of negative space to a vulnerable Ellen.

Venue: Kirk Douglas Theatre, Culver City (Through April 18)
Cast: Heidi Schreck, Emily Donahoe, Danielle Skraastad, Andrea Frankle, Carson Elrod, Deirdre O'Connell, Miriam F. Glover
Playwright: Lisa Kron
Director: Leigh Silverman
Set designer: David Korins
Lighting/projection designer: Alexander V. Nichols
Costume designer: Meg Neville
Sound designer: Cricket S. Myers
Music: Kathryn Bostic
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