By Veronica Cooper and Adam Thomas Smith; Directed by Adam Thomas Smith
Off Off Broadway, Play
Runs through 12.18.16
IRT Theater, 154 Christopher Street, 3B
by Rachel Lepore on 12.11.16
BOTTOM LINE: An endearing and hilarious holiday story for twenty-somethings trying to make adulthood work.
Working in customer service is awful, and that goes double for a Christmas Eve night shift at a hotel. Yet the sarcastic Jessica (Veronica Cooper, also co-playwright), charming Derek (John Racioppo), bubbly Ann (Jennifer Teska), and adorkable Chip (Chris Gebauer) are stuck handling customers anyway. Partly because some of them are Jewish and don’t mind the sacrifice, and partly because the overnight shift guy stiffed some of them out of the ability to go home. They pass their time with games, online quizzes, and the occasional weed break as they contend with rowdy guests and an abandoned beta fish. While there is humor in their handling of various guests, the real heart of Wake Up Call lies in the personal lives of each of the workers. What happens when you’re the only one left out of the loop? Should you take the job you don’t really want but that pays your rent? How does romance even work? The running internal existential crisis of everyone in their twenties is lovingly played out here.
The most stellar aspect of Wake Up Call is undoubtedly how well the writing meshes with the chemistry of the actors. Cooper and Adam Thomas Smith’s dialogue so accurately captures the voice of this generation of characters that I felt like I was watching people I knew, worked with, and had gone to school with. Combine that with the truly wonderful performances by the cast and you end up with some of the most natural friendships and relationships I have seen on stage. Racioppo and Gebauer’s bromance is particularly engaging, with their “I like my women like I like my…” exchanges generating constant laughs. Everyone, really, is clever and witty, but in a way that feels like it was honed by years of Netflix comedy specials, gifs, and online memes. Everyone is a little immature, but also kind of aware of that and desperate to figure out what adult-ing even is. Cooper, Racioppo, Teska, and Gebauer all have their moments to shine, and all treat their moments with a relish. These are some genuinely funny actors here, who help elevate an already good script. This strong backbone in character, relationship, and actor helps lift the play through some of its weaker bits.
As is a danger in the comedic genre, a lot of the reveals in the plot seem somewhat obvious. Very few moments feel truly surprising. One of these is even addressed by a character as they make a remark about “missing all the signs.” Additionally, not all characters in the play are created equal. The core four definitely receive more depth, while the side characters are relegated to caricature—the overly charismatic older man, the Christian extremist, etc. Also, while it is a bit nitpicky, double casting does not quite work for this production due to the small size of the theatre. When Mr. Simon (Jory Murphy) walked on stage, I briefly found myself confused as to why the manager (also Murphy) was being treated like a guest, and why he had changed clothing. A more drastic change in terms of costume design might have been helpful, as it was with some of the other instances of doubling. It should be noted, however, that the actors covering these side characters handled them beautifully regardless of script and space restraints.
Over all, Wake Up Call is an incredibly charming and heartwarming take on early adulthood and the holidays. There are plenty of laughs, there are a fair share of “awws,” and there are some wonderful reminders about what’s really important, not only during this season but during the rest of your year (and life) too.
(Wake Up Call plays at the Interborough Repertory Theater, 154 Christopher Street, 3B, through December 18, 2016. Running time is 1 hour 30 minutes without intermission. Performances are Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays at 7:30; Saturdays at 3 and 7:30, and Sundays at 3. Tickets are $15 and available at irttheater.org.)
Wake Up Call is by Adam Thomas Smith and Veronica Cooper. Directed by Adam Thomas Smith. Lighting Design is by Dana Caputo. Production Consultant is Dee Dee Katchen.
The cast is Veronica Cooper, John Racioppo, Chris Gebauer, Jennifer Teska, Jory Murphy, and Brian Reilly.