By Kia Standard
After nearly two decades of marriage, Jerry and Kate have their coupledom down to a predictable day-to-day routine. Theirs is a marriage of opposites. Kate is a blend of Xena: Warrior Princess and Red Sonja, who leaves her six-figure-salary job to teach at a school for at-risk teens. Jerry is more easygoing; he’s just happy to go along to get along. His motto is, “It’s Kate’s house. I just live here.” In fact, most of the couple’s arguments involve Jerry’s nonchalant approach to life. It’s like he’s sleepwalking. Then one night, tragedy strikes when Kate falls asleep reading a mystery novel and never wakes up. Kate dies on Yom Kippur, and Jerry is suddenly forced to face the challenges and loneliness of being a widower.
“Wake-up Call” is a true story that deals with a difficult topic: How does one grieve the unexpected death of a loved one? In ninety minutes, writer and performer Jerry Franklin navigates through the highs and lows of profound loss, as he desperately seeks a new normal. First he attends a grief support group to try to connect with other people who have lost their spouses. Then he joins Match.com to begin dating again. He also reaches out to family and friends for comfort and solace. But the memory of Kate is everywhere. Jerry is afraid that he will end up like his father and his grandmother, both of whom never really moved on after the death of their spouses. Can he break the cycle of his family’s tragic legacy?
Soon grief moves in and Jerry can’t seem to get rid of him. Grief is personified by Mr. Franklin himself like a monotonous-sounding Darth Vader, or the horrifying Ghost of Christmas Future from Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” Either way he is really scary, and he is always watching, blocking Jerry’s chances at happiness. However, as Jerry walks through his pain, he slowly lets go of Kate, rendering “Grief” powerless. Finally, in the end the ominous ghost shrinks down to pocket-sized.
Mr. Franklin’s performance is raw, honest, and funny. He looks the audience straight in the eye as though he is confiding in an old friend. He relives the day he lost his wife like a flickering reel-to reel home movie, while the audience hangs in the balance moment by moment. His shock, his grief, and his angst are full throttle, as he takes us through both his internal and external monologues from that horrific day. “Her hands weren’t as cold as I thought they’d be,” he says, sweetly singing Kate a final lullaby.
There are beautiful passages throughout this heartwarming show. The poetic prose was so well-crafted that there were times when I wanted to hit rewind in order to hear sections of the text repeated. Short musical interludes also added to the pacing of the story: Roy Orbison’s rendition of “Pretty Woman” boldly opens the show as Kate’s theme song; “Weird Al” Yankovic’s “I Lost on Jeopardy” adds a pinch of humor, and an array of a cappella offerings sung by Mr. Franklin himself add gentle flourishes to this tale.
“Wake-up Call” isn’t all tearjerker; there are also many laugh-out-loud moments. One scene involves Jerry trying to decide how to dispose of a memento he’s having trouble parting with, an adult sex toy from his wife’s bedside table. So, he writes a letter to the advice columnist “Dear Prudence” in Slate Magazine, hoping she can help him find a solution to his predicament. Not only does he receive a response from “Prudence,” he also gets feedback from five thousand of her followers. Comical moments like these lightened the tone of the show’s tragic circumstances.
Sometimes personal tragedy blares at us like an alarm clock and forces us out of our self-imposed comfort zones. Unfortunately those dark days are unavoidable. Jerry Franklin’s “Wake-up Call” shows us how to face even the darkest days of loss with grace, perseverance and humor.
Written and Performed by Jerry Franklin
Nov. 11 at 4pm
Director: David Ford
Acting Coach: Julia McNeal
Movement Coach: Jill Vice
Photo: courtesy of the production
United Solo 2018
410 West 42nd Street
New York City
KIA STANDARD is a writer and musical theater performer, who has appeared in regional and international productions of “West Side Story,” “The King and I”, “Little Shop of Horrors,” and “Bubbling Brown Sugar.” She received an MA in Creative Writing/Nonfiction from The Johns Hopkins University, and has published articles and profiles for various talent magazines. Ms. Standard is currently working as a musical playwright.