"Wake" at the Purple Rose
A joke with no punchline
by Sally Mitani
Wake doesn't live up to Michigan playwright Carey Crim's first play, Growing Pretty, which made its debut last spring at the Purple Rose. Growing Pretty followed a misfit teenager as she bloomed into a successful artist because of, or in spite of, a lecherous mentor. It was a simple story, but an unexpected one: its main character was both unique and believable, and Crim managed to wring originality from the familiar coming-of-age story of one character on her way up and another on his way down, plus some saucy dialogue.
Like Growing Pretty, Wake celebrates the domestic life cycle, and its tragicomic beginnings and endings. But Crim's newer play, which runs through August 23, is not nearly as well controlled. At the center of the action is Molly Harrison (Michelle Mountain), an agoraphobic mortician who is having trouble getting on with her life after the death of her husband. From the minute I opened my program I had my hackles up. What, exactly, is the point of an agoraphobic mortician? It has the sound of a joke ("heard the one about the agoraphobic mortician?"), but Crim gets surprisingly little mileage out of it. Lots of snappy banter ricochets around the stage with the well-timed ping of good comedy, but in the end Wake has little to say about either agoraphobia or morticians. I began to suspect Crim had invented the setting because she'd thought of a great title: "wake" is at once a rite of death, a command to live, and something that trails behind, and the word has a richness, complexity, and ambiguity that Crim couldn't seem to locate anywhere in the script.
To muddy things more, the main story is seeded with so many subplots and other devices that soon all seem to be struggling for air. Molly's daughter Sam (Stacie Hadgikosti) is a troubled, precocious teenage kleptomaniac. Molly's mother (Sandy Ryder), sensing her own impending death, takes steps to make a legacy. And cloistered though
she may be, Molly sees so much action in her morgue you'd think she'd want to get out of it once in a while just to get some solitude. Her dead husband is a frequent visitor. A handsome, eligible man takes a doglike romantic interest in her, and she develops toward him a kind of nervous tic, frequently ambushing him with kisses while professing to be uninterested in him. And eventually she embalms her own mother.
And shame on you, Purple Rose, where are your production values? Vincent Mountain's luminously abstract set fights tooth and nail with Danna Segrest's hyperrealistic props. Characters walk through invisible walls, yet the making of a souffle is staged with Food Network verisimilitude. Purple Rose seems to be enjoying a summer vacation.
[Originally published in August, 2009.]
On August 13, 2009, Sandy Franz wrote:
Sally Mitani's snotty review of Wake, the current Purple Rose production, falls short.
I grew up in the funeral profession and found the play to be oneof the best I've seen in a long time. It is a story about grief and loss, how each of us deals with them differently, how we help each other through them, the wrong turns we take in their grasp. The delicate interplay between living and dead, and our communication with both, was well developed.
The poignant picture of a woman who has the courage to touch and care for the dead, which many of us do not, but who is afraid to go outside because of grief, was well developed in the play. The family members who were adversely affected by her grief, yet still encouraged her to keep moving forward and start to live, were imaginatively, sympathetically and humorously developed.
Anyone who's lost a loved one or a pet, or anyone who believes or hopes that the veil will occasionally thin to allow us to communicate, is at home in the world that Carey Crim created in Wake. Ms. Mitani's "hackles" apparently forbade her entrance.