Whatever, we ask, are these “wooden breeks” that lend Glen Berger’s latest play its name? Well, according to nine-year-old Wicker Grigs, “Breeks are trousers. The wooden breeks are wooden trousers. That is a coffin.” Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings! Wicker, why weren’t you always onstage? Berger’s tortuous piece of fancy packs in so many frames, asides, and puns that further annotations would have been most helpful.
As the play opens, tinker Tom (Adam Rothenberg) grudgingly prepares to tell Wicker (Jaymie Dornan) a tale. For the past nine years, since the abrupt disappearance of the boy’s mother (and Tom’s sweetheart) Hetty, Tom has nightly conjured Hetty by spinning stories explaining her continued absence: She’s delayed by pirates one week, influenza the next. In this final legend, Hetty arrives at the “miserable, mythical Village of Brood” in the guise of coffin-device saleswoman Anna Livia Spoon.
If the setting and character names haven’t already suggested it, we are inextricably in the land of whimsy—albeit of a murky sort—and stuck for well over two hours there. While Berger is incredibly (perhaps infuriatingly) talented in his use of language, he doesn’t possess the same skill at narrative motion or dramatic arc. Lines such as “a keepsake to keep in your keep” and “his life is a study in study and tea” drag the action down like so many trenches of tar. Director Trip Cullman has assembled a lovely cast—Rothenberg’s tinker, T. Ryder Smith’s lighthouse keeper, and Veanne Cox’s anhedonic tapstress do illumine the proceedings. But when the tinker’s firelight is at last extinguished, we aren’t eager for a rekindling.