I’m a sucker for magic realism. I love a story steeped in a world I recognize, breached by elements of fantasy. There is something very appealing about this hybrid of the real and the impossible.
The team behind Then He Wakes Up at Fringe must feel the same. Although advertising themselves as absurdist, the play is very much reliant on the ordinary reality of daily existence as a backdrop for their use of ‘magic’.
In Then He Wakes Up, ordinary reality is life as a married, working adult, and it is a reality that needs to be escaped.
This escape comes in the magic space of dreams: layers of dreams, communally shared dreams, dreams that never end, dreams that are no different from being awake. The play itself is a dream sequence, one that mimics reality while allowing the impossible (like walking down the street and finding yourself back in the spot you just left).
What is problematic for me is that I don’t quite believe this ‘reality’ the whole idea hinges on.
Henry (Jordan Mechano) is supposed to represent the bored, unthinking, ‘normal’ everyman. His life is a series of routine activities that involve ‘pushing numbers’ at work, going to dinners with his wife, and generally doing what is expected of him.
And while Mechano gives a very believable, enjoyable, and funny performance (in fact his performance was my favourite), his character is a little too stock for me to really get into, especially because the other characters are so brilliantly quirky.
I really like what writer Matthew Sarookanian is driving at – if the daily grind is not for you, don’t resign yourself to it. Don’t get trapped in a life that doesn’t make you happy.
But Henry seems too stereotypical to be real, and the daily grind he represents starts to feel like a stereotype as well. To me it doesn’t end up feeling like a reality that needs to be escaped, because it doesn’t really feel like my experience of reality.
The play intends to indulge the absurd, so none of this takes away from its enjoyability – I laughed out loud consistently. If you see this play, you will enjoy yourself. But I’m a Literature grad and a hunter of deeper meaning, and this play’s message does seem to rely on the audience’s belief in the authenticity of a reality that, for me, feels less than genuine.
What I find most interesting is that while offering an escape, the dreams in this play are just as repetitive as the daily routine they claim to offer escape from. Even the magic is a trap. What does this mean? Then He Wakes Up leaves me with questions – and that’s a great thing for a play to do.
- Then He Wakes Up is playing at Venue #10, Theatre Passe Muraille Mainspace (16 Ryerson Ave.)
- Performances are: July 05 10:30 PM, July 07 11:30 PM, July 08 02:15 PM, July 11 04:15 PM, July 12 03:30 PM, July 14 07:00 PM, July 15 01:00 PM
- All individual Fringe tickets are $10 at the door (cash only).
- Tickets are also available online at www.fringetoronto.com, by phone at 416-966-1062, or in person at The Randolph Centre for the Arts, 736 Bathurst Street (Advance tickets are $11 – $9+$2 service charge)
- Value packs are available if you plan to see at least 5 shows