Stage Struck Review

Reviews for theater within the greater Los Angeles area.

Of Life, Loss, and Humor: The SeaGlass Theatre’s “Wake” in South Pasadena

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The itinerant SeaGlass Theater has landed in South Pasadena with a light, yet touching west coast premiere. “Wake” by Carey Crim finds a gentle, often humorous way to examine issues of loss and isolation, and proves engaging in the process. If, on occasion, it steps a bit close to a Family Channel script, engaging actors and the balance of drama and humor keep it from falling too far in that direction.

Now at the Fremont Centre Theatre, “Wake” (double entendre thoroughly intended) is set in a family-run mortuary and funeral home. The family lives in the building, and the action moves back and forth between their apartment and the main viewing room of the funeral parlor itself, where the central figure often provides finishing touches to the “realistic” make-up the dead wear in their coffins.

The central figure, Molly, is a single mom whose husband died tragically three years before. Now agoraphobic, she lives with her quirky mother Ivy and her precocious young daughter Sam, whom she home schools as a manifestation of her fear. Both family members encourage her to venture outside, even using a long-planned trip to Moscow as incentive. Will it work? Perhaps, but there are demons she must exorcise first.

Alison Blanchard makes Molly quirky but warm, and her struggle between an unresolved past and a potentially open future happens without histrionics – making them very real, and in some cases intuitively more intense. Allie Costa seems a natural as the tween-ish Sam, balancing her own frustrations with her family’s situation with a bubbly, generally hopeful view of the life she wants to drag her mother into.

Then there are the two men off of whom Molly bounces her situation. Michael Connors creates a very genuine, gentle man as Joe, who meets Molly at his own father’s funeral and becomes a window for her to the world she is desperate to rejoin. Larry McCormack brings a formality to Peter, Molly’s dead husband, whose often amusing conversations with Molly illuminate her inability to move on.

Most memorable has to be Nancy B. Berggren’s Ivy, the self-aware, loving grandmother who embodies a fascinating combination of hope and realism. She appears central to the crisp pacing, and lights up any scene she’s in. Yet she does not play the star. These actors work together in an ensemble format which truly is the reason the play works as well as it does. It feels like watching a mildly dysfunctional but loving family, and that sense of comfort allows the messages of the play to travel.

Director Matt Kirkwood utilizes the tiny FTC stage to full effect, thanks in part to set designers Aaron and Monika Henderson, who have designed a set at once realistic and compressed. It works.

“Wake” is about death and life, hope and grief, facing the issues of aging and the potentials of youth, and the necessity of looking one’s own truth in the face. The messages aren’t new, yet t it isn’t corny (though it might have been) in part because the production by SeaGlass Theatre keeps it all so genuine. That’s tougher than one might imagine, and makes this show worth a look.

What: “Wake” When: Through May 25, 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays Where: The SeaGlass Theatre at Fremont Centre Theatre, 1000 Fremont Ave. in South Pasadena How Much: $25 general, $20 seniors and students Info: (626) 441-5977 or http://www.fremontcentretheatre.com

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