Hyde Park Theatre’s latest offers message on life, death and what gives us meaning

Playwright Will Eno’s works are never what one would call straightforward dramas. They tend to meld lyrical dialogue, witty philosophizing and vague, elliptical plot points to create a modern-day Theatre of the Absurd. Picture something of a mixture between Samuel Beckett and the dialogue of “Gilmore Girls.”

Ken Webster stars in Hyde Park Theatre’s “Wakey Wakey.” Contributed by Rebecca Robinson

As a company dedicated to producing the most challenging and cutting-edge of contemporary works, Hyde Park Theatre seems to have a special affinity for Eno’s plays, having produced several in the past. The latest HPT production is of Eno’s newest work, “Wakey, Wakey,” a two-person dramatic comedy that embraces surrealist wit in order to present a life-affirming message.

At the heart of “Wakey, Wakey” is one man, noted in the program as “Guy.” Whether that is his name or merely a descriptor is up to the audience’s interpretation. Just as Guy is the core of the text, he is also the heart of HPT’s production. The company’s artistic director, Ken Webster, takes on the role himself while also directing the play.

Webster’s clearly personal stake in “Wakey, Wakey,” whether intentionally or not, becomes an integral part of the production. The majority of the show features Guy sitting in a wheelchair, talking directly to the audience while occasionally presenting sound clips, images and videos that are projected directly onto the wall behind him. In this context, it’s hard not to see a bit of Webster within Guy, speaking out to a familiar audience in the black box theater that has been his artistic home for so many years. This makes Guy’s probing search of his own past, his thoughts and musings and bon mots, even more deeply moving.

Late in the play, Guy is joined onstage by Lisa, played with a subdued sense of kindness and joy by HPT mainstay, and frequent Webster collaborator, Rebecca Robinson. When Lisa enters from the door marked EXIT, which has been open behind Guy for the entire play, we begin to see the play’s deeper plot machinations and understand the meanings behind Guy’s existential ramblings.

The appeal of “Wakey, Wakey” isn’t the plot, though; it’s the warm, witty, charming, resigned performance that Webster provides to an intimate audience. Through his choices as both an actor and a director, he turns the play into an outright celebration of what it means to live a worthwhile life that leaves an impact on other people.

In such divided times, the ultimate message of “Wakey, Wakey” feels radical rather than trite — share yourself with others, and take care of them, and they’ll do the same for you. Otherwise, we might as well all simply go through life asleep.

When: 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday through March 31
Where: 511 W. 43rd St.
Cost: $20-$24
Information: 512-479-7529, hydeparktheatre.org

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