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Wake Up!

nytheatre.com review by Julia Lee Barclay
August 11, 2012

What a breath of fresh air is the must-see Wake Up!  This Redbone Theatrical production written by Kim Fischer, directed by Travis Baird with Trevor Salter, Glenn Quentin, Max Carpenter, Max Bisantz and Baird in the ensemble is as good as it gets at FringeNYC.

Seeing this show reminded me of when I first saw Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing, except with the more immediate and dangerous presence of live theater.

This show takes on issues of race and identity with equal parts boldness and hilarity.  The style of the show is ensemble, athletic and precise.  The humor is not easy and there were many moments I felt uncomfortable, even as I was laughing.  This is just great. 

The actors are multi-racial and the usual dialectic of black and white is confused by the lynchpin role played by an Asian young man who convinces himself he is black by befriending an African-American young man who in reality loves opera but plays to the black stereotype for the benefit of his friend and also to not seem “too white” in his own neighborhood.  He is going to a primarily white upscale high-school and fears it is leaking out on him.  The way this is portrayed is worth the price of admission.

There is a side plot of a white and black cop who struggle through massive discomfort to communicate, with results that range from hilarious to tragically sad.  Racism and fear is just below the surface of all the exchanges and in the last exchange, they say overtly everything that was underneath their attempted platitudes.

The fear these young men tap into is what makes the piece so extraordinary.  It’s not just about making jokes at the expense of The Other (whoever that might be) or about preaching to the converted, but through humor, precision and fearlessness, showing the fear that drives racism.  It also portrays how you cannot rent someone else’s racial identity to cover over your own shame and fear.

The acting is uniformly excellent and the direction is precise.  We in the audience are engaged and implicated from the first moment.  Our presence and response as a multi-racial audience is part of the show (not through direct interaction but by the nature of the open staging and direct address).

My only slight quibble with the show is that it ended a little too abruptly and too soon.  Hopefully they will continue to mine this material and draw out some of the other lines of racial confusion/identity/fear they discovered in this version.

You should keep your eye out for all these young artists, recent college grads or soon to be grads, because they are going to be creating some of the most exciting, challenging and hilarious work in the near future.  If you feared for the future of theater, fear no more.  Meanwhile, catch them now at FringeNYC so you can say I saw them when…