By Austin Kaiser
“Wake‑Up Call” is the story of Jerry Franklin and his wife, who dies about ten minutes into the story. Mr. Franklin tells us just enough to make us fall in love with her, and then she is taken away. He tells his story of bereavement though scenes, relives their conversations, and tells jokes they shared. Mr. Franklin struck me as naturally funny, at times self‑deprecating and silly.
Later in the show, Grief becomes a character. He hangs around Mr. Franklin, reminding him of his dead wife when he tries to make small talk with other women. Grief hardly speaks, and the way Mr. Franklin deals with him is very clever. When Mr. Franklin buries his wife’s ashes, Grief shrinks. Grief protests, his voice getting higher as he gets smaller, but Mr. Franklin just smiles. He says that Grief will always be with him, but he has learned how to manage him. He picks up Grief and puts Grief in his pocket.
But before that happens, there is humor and insight to be had. There is a contrast between Mr. Franklin’s grief and his father’s feelings when his mother passed away. His father, who had more difficulty processing Grief, became a hoarder. He never discarded any of his late wife’s possessions. Over the years, his house became unlivable. Jerry felt that same reluctance to move his wife’s things. He felt it would disrespect her memory and make it seem like the world was forgetting her.
Mr. Franklin also plays characters at a bereavement meeting: a deep‑voiced, slouching New Yorker and a coffee‑sipping woman who cannot believe that Mr. Franklin was attending the meeting only three weeks after his wife’s death. These characters are a funny bunch, and Mr. Franklin acts them all well. I was laughing, and at the same time, witnessing people share the saddest thoughts of their lives.
This show reminded me how accommodating people can be when you are in a crisis. When the ambulance arrives to pick up Mr. Franklin’s wife after her heart attack, a neighbor comes over. The neighbor comforts Mr. Franklin and drives him to the hospital. Even as Mr. Franklin protests, becomes flustered, and is unsure whether to stay with the paramedics, the neighbor soothes and nudges him to let the paramedics do their work. Afterwards, friends bring him food. This whole sequence, including the passing of his wife, is sweetly portrayed and shows the best side of people. It shows Mr. Franklin lovingly teasing his wife to wake up after he hears her snore (her last breath). It shows the paramedics professionally and efficiently handling the awful situation. It shows the neighbors selflessly comforting him, knowing that he needs love and attention without being told.
I recommend this show to anyone who has lost someone. You’ll be reminded that the persistent grief you may be feeling is something many people have experienced and worked through. Grief appears when we least expect it. By lightening our hearts and being willing to laugh, we can find positive ways to deal with unexpected thoughts. We can make ourselves resilient through counseling and the community of group meetings.
I loved this show. It’s funny and serious. It teaches a real, practical lesson: how to work through grief. Grief is an emotional Olympics. It’s a blessing to have workouts like “Wake‑Up Call.” Imagine not being able to learn about this issue, and bearing grief on your own. How wonderful then that this performance contributes to unearthing and bringing to light the otherwise infinitely dark and coal‑like volcanic center of humankind’s privately held grief. I also recommend “Wake‑Up Call” to anyone who has not lost someone. This show will help them understand something important.
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
AUSTIN KAISER is a writer with an expertise in art and the creative process. His writing is about improving your imagination and exercising your empathy muscle. Kaiser is currently writing a book called, “100 Questions Every Artist Should Have The Answers To.” His other book, “How To Go Viral & Put Wings On Ideas: A Book For Content Creators & Young Artists,” explains how ideas travel and which ideas travel best. More at www.medium.com/@KaiserMane.