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Natasha St. Clair Johnson (foreground); Megan Kim, Jeffrey Gardner, and Alicia Rose Ivanhoe (background) in Gordon Dahlquist's Wake at City Garage.
Natasha St. Clair Johnson (foreground); Megan Kim, Jeffrey Gardner, and Alicia Rose Ivanhoe (background) in Gordon Dahlquist’s Wake at City Garage.

Wake 

Reviewed by Neal Weaver 
City Garage Theatre 
Through December 17 

City Garage Theatre has been one of the more interesting companies in L.A., and their work has always been polished and professional. Director Frederique Michel and producer Charles Duncombe are good people. But over the years they have seemed to become more aggressively stylized in their work, more minimalist, and more intellectually abstract — more Apollonian, you might say. But good theatre needs its touch of the Dionysian, and a touch of everyday reality to keep it grounded.

This production of Gordon Dahlquist’s Wake, felt just too remote for this viewer. There didn’t seem to be much at stake, nobody to root for, and not much point to the exercise. The synopsis in the program had more real content than the play.

It’s a dystopian fantasy in which a woman named Irene (Natasha St Clair-Johnson), clad in a shapeless white jump-suit, awakens in a cryogenic chamber in the distant but unspecified future. She’d had herself frozen because she was suffering from terminal cancer, and presumably hoped to be reawakened when a cure was discovered. But she finds herself stranded in a not-so-brave new world, where all the denizens wear skin-tight silver body suits. A researcher named May (Alicia Rose Ivanhoe) has come to study her, and to introduce her to this new and incomprehensible environment. She tells Irene that her cancer has been unaccountably cured, but the two women have so little common experience that no real communication is possible. Irene is full of questions, but May’s answers are cryptic, ambiguous, and uninformative. She explains that in this world — whatever it is — there is no work, necessities are plentifully available, and people live extremely long lives and are free to “pursue their own interests.” All their needs are met, and everything in life is controlled by a mysterious personage known as Platform (Megan Kim) who is even less communicative than May. (In the huge projected close-ups of her face, she looks like a Native American shaman, but that intriguing imagery is not pursued.) There’s also a frivolous young man named Sen (Jeffrey Gardner), and another cryogenic survivor named Sarah (Sandy Mansson), who seems like a rather ordinary woman from the Midwest, and I was never sure what she was there for.

There’s a certain amount of ritualistic marching around, and a lot of intellectual palaver, but nothing to hold onto or sink one’s teeth into. It all seemed patently unreal, and mostly incredible. The only concrete personal human details are Irene’s red toenail polish and the underwear lines beneath the silver body-suits.

As always at this theatre, the production is skillful and meticulous, the performances are professional and solid, and the set handsomely abstract in a constructivist vein. The projections, designed by Duncombe, feature some really gorgeous shots of wisteria trees. But none of it is particularly dramatic, human or relevant.

I wanted to like it, but it seemed like very thin porridge.

 

City Garage, Building T1, Bergamot Station, 2525 Michigan Avenue, Santa Monica. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.;  Sun., 3 p.m. (310) 453-9939 or www.citygarage.org (Brown Paper Tickets.) Running time: One hour and 15 minutes with no intermission.

 

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