To sleep, perchance to experience enlightenment: What are the different states of human consciousness and awareness? Wakings! is a metaphysical exploration of this question, using examples from well-known writers and stories, from Harold Pinter to Rip Van Winkle to Siddhartha.
Members of the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble, under artistic director Ron Sossi, present this mostly thought-provoking set of short plays. The most successful comes just after intermission: Pinter’s “A Kind of Alaska,” inspired by Oliver Sacks’ book Awakenings. Deborah (Diana Cignoni), who contracted “sleeping sickness” 30 years earlier, is awakened by an injection from her doctor, Hornby (Ron Bottitta). Cignoni masterfully portrays a girl/woman who remains stuck at 16 despite being decades older. She is alternately joyous to be awake and horrified to witness aging, both her own and that of her sister Pauline (Ladegaard).
This beautiful piece could stand on its own, despite its brief length. It is embellished by two others: Pinter’s “Victoria Station” and Herman Hesse’s “Siddhartha.” Robert Coover’s “Rip Awake” is more of a detraction, an unfocused and too-long solo piece about the fictional Rip Van Winkle (Darrell Larson) who denounces the Dutchmen who gave him the liquor that knocked him out for 20 years. When he wakes up, having learned he missed the American Revolution, he whines about being left out and vows revenge.
“Victoria Station” features a cab driver (C.J. O’Toole) and dispatcher (Bottitta) locked in an existential conversation about the meaning of place, time and trust. O’Toole at first seems obstinately unaware, but over the course of this engaging piece is revealed to have a different take on awareness than the increasingly frustrated dispatcher who tells him, “I’m the only one you can trust.” Watching Bottitta build toward infuriation is both gratifying and amusing, especially as O’Toole retains his cool detachment and trust in himself.
In the powerful closing to the show, “Siddhartha,” O’Toole returns as the titular prince, on a spiritual quest that leads to Gautama, the Buddha. He begins in a state of despair but after being cleansed he renounces man’s leaders as a source of salvation and embraces oneness with the beauty of the earth.
Siddhartha sees that the waters of the river are steady and constant, yet always new. In the same way, powerful literature and theater experiences can speak to us over time, revealing new depths. Elements of this show reach their intended goals of opening the mind to other forms of consciousness beyond sleep and awake.
Performances of Wakings! take place at the Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd. Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00pm and Sundays at 2:00pm through June 5, as well as Wednesday, May 11 and Wed., May 25, each at 8:00pm. Tickets range from $32 to $37, with two “Tix for $10” performances, Wed., May 11 and Friday, May 27. Post-performance discussions are scheduled for Wednesday, May 11 and Friday, May 20. May 27, is “Wine Night”; audience members are invited to mingle with the cast and enjoy complimentary wine and snacks. Proof of vaccination and mask-wearing are required.