No Wake by William Donnelly. Directed by Kyle Fabel
Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
David Adkins, James Lloyd Reynolds, Jurian Hughes; photo: Jaime Davidson
"Being on top."
Two men who have no business even knowing each other find themselves deeply involved with the same woman. Each has been married to her at some point. One has a daughter with her; the other has been a caregiver to the girl. The three are brought together with the young woman dies. What happens among them leaves, as no vessel has ever done before, no wake after a death that involves no Wake.
William Donnelly’s world premiere play is making its reappearance here at the Unicorn Theatre at the Berkshire Theatre Festival this week. It opened at the beginning of September for a one week run and opens again for a run through the month of October.
In it’s premiere week the play seemed unfinished, a one hour twenty-four minutes one-act with a second act, perhaps, still to be written. It is a slice of life, therefore, a series of connected incidents and scenes that lead its participants through an emotional roller-coaster ride without coming to rest at a boarding pier before the house lights come back up. Recent local press would indicate that the author and director and cast have been making a few changes, but there is sense for me, at this juncture, whether or not that open-ended sense has been dealt with or not.
Perhaps it isn’t an issue that the play stops before it ends. Perhaps there is a greater attachment to reality in not tying up the loose ends. Life is like that, after all, and no ending is what we experience day after day. The concept, though, of leaving no wake, no lasting impression on the water of life, that is at stake here. Edward and Rebecca’s daughter Sukie has left a wake after her after all and the play deals less with "no impression" than it does with the varied memories and understanding of who and what she was all about.
Jurian Hughes plays Rebecca Padgett, former wife of Edward Nolan, with a strength and a regard for reality that makes a deep set of feelings rise to the top like heavy cream would in a bottle of whole milk. There is a smoothness to her performance that is utterly enchanting and as her emotions play with her daily routine she becomes a great many variations on herself. It is a delicious performance and one to be cherished.
James Lloyd Reynolds plays her current husband, Roger, with a British accent that has been borrowed from an acting class instructor, it seems. It has a resonance of "Englishness" but it doesn’t sound real and it occasionally slips away entirely. His role is sometimes like that as well. Roger is the grounding sensibility. He is the rock that a ship can tie up to and feel secure. Still he seems to be more surface than he is support, less boulder and more pebble.
Taking the lead in emotional insecurity, moral instability and parental quandary is David Adkins, an actor who seems unable to deliver a false note in any way in any role. When he and Hughes are working together there is a terrific struggle for control. When he and Reynolds are playing a scene together Adkins is clearly in control of each twist and turn; this may be as much the writing as the acting, of course, and I hope it is. When he plays with both of his stage partners, Adkins is a picture perfect ensemble actor, one part of a picture that may dominate at certain angles, but never obliterates the contributions of the others.
His personal discoveries in character seem to spring from personal discoveries as an actor. The unseen character of the bi-polar, suicidal daughter probably moved Adkins more on his journey to create the distanced father than anything else in the script. Edward’s sexual nature is seemingly a by-product of his inability to truly connect with other people and Adkins lets that aspect play through perfectly.
Fabel and his design cohorts have worked the empty spaces in the Unicorn Theatre with a remarkable fluidity that allows the actors to work in a freely viable way. Space is contained within light, set pieces function as needed and are revealed when necessary. Throughout, the concept of ‘no wake’ provides a barren field staggered by ruins that have a minimal resonance. Now and then Fabel allows his characters to discover an object of importance which almost functions as the missing character, almost provides another voice. It is sterling work on a remarkable fragment of life.
Campbell Baird is responsible for the scenic design, Charles Schoonmaker for the costumes and Paul Hackenmueller for the area lighting that makes the play ebb and flow.
Kudos to Eric Hill for his fight direction, by the way, another fragment of reality well played.
If you aren’t already a David Adkins fan this performance might win you over. If you are one, as I am, it will only cement that relationship with an actor who could read the Pittsfield Telephone Directory and make you care. He makes you care about Edward, and his daughter, and his ex-wife and whatever the future holds for them all.
No Wake plays at the Unicorn Theatre through October 24 on the campus of the Berkshire Theatre Festival, on Route 7 in Stockbridge, MA. For information and tickets contact the box office at 413-298-5576.