- In the Wake
Lisa Kron is known primarily for her autobiographical performances and her work with the Five Lesbian Brothers. In her newest piece, In the Wake, which premiered at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Kron undertakes a different challenge: writing an ensemble allegory critiquing both the George W. Bush administration policies and US middle-class neoliberalism. The play tackles the impossibility of having it all, personally and politically, and the tension between striving for infinite expansion and maintaining current systems. The premise of the piece—that Americans as individuals and as a country are on an unsustainable trajectory—is smartly executed in this rich, layered play, which, with edits, could become an iconic representation of political and personal indulgence during the first decade of the twenty-first century. With varying degrees of success, the characters' relationships, the many interconnected themes of Kron's script, the set, and the acting demonstrate how difficult it can be to balance the personal and the political, enough and excess. [End Page 670]
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Kron has a gift for writing realistic dialogue and engaging, multifaceted characters. Her protagonist Ellen, played with passion and honesty by Heidi Schreck, is a thirty-something New York writer who devotes an impressive amount of time to railing against Bush's policies, but believes that the fundamental infrastructure of the current political system is sound; the system just needs to be expanded to include everyone. Her partner Danny, played by the charming Carson Elrod, teases her about her commitment to politics rather than engaging in debates with her, and the dynamics between the two are sweet. When Ellen receives a telephone call from Amy (Emily Donahoe)—a girl she barely knew in high school—and the two women discover one night that they share a profound connection, she expands her life to include another romantic relationship. Danny allows her this freedom, saying it is important for her to actively choose him, rather than to stay with him as default. More than a year passes, with Ellen dividing her time between Danny and Amy, until Danny demands that she choose, and Ellen suddenly cannot have it all anymore. She is alternatively infuriating and endearing, and in her journey back and forth between these two emotional responses, audience members confront the implications of their own political views and personal choices.
Kron juggles a variety of themes in the piece, mostly to great effect. When the play begins, it is Thanksgiving 2000 and the US presidential election remains undecided. Ellen and Danny are joined on this holiday by Danny's sister Kayla (Andrea Frankle), her wife Laurie (Danielle Skraastad), and Judy (Deirdre O'Connell), a cynical aid worker who spends most of her time in refugee camps in West Africa. Although Judy's relationship to the rest of the characters is frustratingly unclear for the first thirty minutes of the play (she worked with Ellen at a human-rights organization), her brilliantly written and movingly delivered speeches directed at Ellen in act 2 provide the incisive critique at the heart of Kron's play: the idea that the system has a place for everyone is a myth. Kron skillfully connects Ellen's blind spots about her personal life to neoliberals' blind spots about policy, weaving together systems theory, negative space, and the tax code to demonstrate that the best intentions can cause catastrophic destruction. Ellen does not notice the damage she has caused until she has sufficient distance from the point of impact and can view the destruction in her wake.
The scenery, designed by David Korins, was a clever approach to a play that demands both a fully realized unit set and a series of other locations, and he masterfully balanced a variety of competing interests. The apartment—run down though filled with books and artifacts seemingly from the couple's international travels—indicated that Ellen and Danny were slumming and enjoying the opportunities afforded them by their...