Ken Urban

TheAwakeThe set is on fire.
The flood waters are rising.
The interrogation is starting.
Are we better off asleep?

Three strangers – a devoted son,
an Eastern European actress and
a Canadian man on the run – awaken to discover they are connected by a mysterious corporation. Faced with lives they no longer recognize, they must confront secrets, strangers and unmarked doors. In a world in which it’s easier to close our eyes, Ken Urban’s provocative new play asks: Is it time to wake up?

2 thoughts on “Ken Urban

  1. shinichi Post author

    To Sleep, Perchance to Dream Another’s Reality

    ‘The Awake,’ by Ken Urban, With Consciousness in Limbo

    by Catherine Rampell

    “I read in some crazy book you bought me that ‘weird’ comes from the Anglo-Saxon word for ‘wise.’ ”

    So says a character in Ken Urban’s extraordinarily ambitious and intricately plotted play “The Awake,” about three characters’ intersecting lives, dreams and nightmares.

    The Oxford English Dictionary does not quite agree with this etymological assessment, but it is an apt epigraph for a play fixated on the weird, tortuous detours our brains cook up when we are asleep or too terrified to accept that we are still awake.

    It’s easy to be skeptical about a plot structured around dreams and hallucinations, so often the hallmark of lazy writing. (Is there any more tired deus ex machina than “it was all just a dream”?) But Mr. Urban embraces the storytelling challenge, forcing us to piece together the biographies of the three: Nate (Maulik Pancholy, best known as Alec Baldwin’s obsequious assistant on “30 Rock”), a young Canadian of Middle-Eastern descent; Gabrielle (Lori Prince), a housewife suspicious of her husband’s secretive work life; and Malcolm (Andy Phelan), a 20-something mama’s boy coming to terms with his sheltered existence. All share a peculiar connection to a mysterious, Halliburton-like company rumored to be behaving very badly.

    Their stories are told concurrently, and one character’s dream frequently turns out to be another’s reality. Or so it seems; it’s often hard to tell what is real, what is dreamed, what is willfully imagined and what is perhaps the product of post-traumatic stress disorder. Voices and story lines converge and diverge like an elaborately mixed recording. The dialogue is full of stylized harmonies and dissonances; plots and characters operate in counterpoint. It is a structure that brings to mind Walter Pater’s famous dictum that all art aspires toward the condition of music, a fusion of form and subject matter.

    The production captures exquisitely the shifting logic of dreams, where people appear and melt away and metamorphose, and where minds connive to translate contemporary anxieties into primal fears of fire, flood and bloodthirsty beasts. But there are no computer-generated special effects in this live-theater production to permit such shape-shifting; the sense of disorientation instead comes from the poetry of Mr. Urban’s words and Adam Fitzgerald’s skillful direction.

    That said, there is some inventive design work from a team that includes Brad Peterson (projections), David L. Arsenault (scenery) and Travis McHale (lighting). The actors perform on a traverse stage: that is, a long strip between two groups of theatergoers who face each other. Such staging does not allow for a traditional backdrop, so, instead, the designers have created a sort of up-drop, if you will. Lights and projections are shined onto a mirrored floor beneath the actors’ feet, and reflected back up onto a low ceiling. It’s simple but very clever, and the resulting washes of deep blue, hellish red and a cluttered snow upon both floor and ceiling help seal off the stage from the audience — a visual reminder of how trapped these stranded souls are.


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