Ken Urban’sThe Awake begins with a disorienting swirl of scene shifts. Malcolm (Andy Phelan) prepares to visit his mother (Dee Nelson), who later lies comatose in a hospital; Nate (Maulik Pancholy of 30 Rock) faces arrest, captivity, and brutal interrogation; Gabrielle (Lori Prince) is terrified when she learns what her husband (Jeff Biehl) does for a living and loses herself in an Eastern European movie star fantasy.
In the face of the unknown, escapism becomes both a coping mechanism and a source of self-torture for these characters in three nested plot trajectories. While Malcolm imagines heroically rescuing his mother from a tsunami, Nate finds comfort in thoughts of being (of all things) a substitute teacher as his hooded interrogator employs tactics of psychological terror. Meanwhile, Gabrielle perceives her daughter (portrayed with splendid creepiness by Jocelyn Kuritsky) to have a yen for violent science fair projects. Perhaps improbably, the paths of the characters intertwine, and—more believably—the fantasies resolve into emotional realities that, as in all our lives, must ultimately be borne rather than escaped.
Director Adam Fitzgerald has made fine use of the shoebox space at 59E59 with a minimalist production that relies on light and sound cues and the most basic set pieces (chairs) to weave together this engaging tapestry of stories. One astute choice was not to have actors mime props that aren’t there. It forces the audience’s imagination in the same way that the descriptive, hallucinatory monologues require the audience to color in the details of scenes occurring in a character’s mind. Both script and production are quickly paced, uncoiling artfully as delusions and daydreams evaporate to make way for the truth.