How do we know when we are awake? Asleep? Daydreaming? Dreaming? Hallucinating? These are questions which philosophers, psychologists, physicians, writers, and artists have explored for millennia. The mystery of what constitutes different states of consciousness and what triggers them seems to be slowly unfolding as the miracles of modern science join with the thoughts and theories of philosophers to form new and exciting paths of exploration. The queries behind this conundrum intrigued Odyssey Theatre Ensemble artistic director Ron Sossi, who reached into the scribblings of iconic authors to search for an answer. The result was WAKINGS, which explores just a few of the states of awareness which we humans may experience.
Awareness was clearly the focus of Harold Pinter’s “Victoria Station.” Trouble is brewing as a taxi dispatcher (Ron Bottitta) tries relentlessly and without success to engage the undivided attention of newly love-struck driver 274 (C.J. O’Toole). Raising his voice and pounding on the desk don’t seem to be working as his ineffectual efforts to send the driver to Victoria Station to pick up a fare strike out. None of the other drivers are responding, and the dispatcher is quickly losing his grip on reality.
Playwright Robert Coover came at the question from a different and very literary direction. How would it feel to be a man who just slept away 20 years of his life and awakens to find the world changed? Someone exactly like Washington Irving’s classic Rip Van Winkle (Darrell Larson), who must make sense of the absurdity of existence.
Pinter tackles the same queries again in “A Kind of Alaska,” a tale about “sleeping sickness” which infected the world in the early part of the twentieth century. Influenced by neurologist Oliver Sacks’ “Awakenings” (later made into a movie), this piece brings the story up-to-date. Deborah (Diana Cignoni) must come to terms with a nap which began when she was 16 years old – only to end at 45. Even Dr. Hornby (Rob Bottitta) and her sister Pauline (Kristina Ladegaard) can’t help her resolve her many unanswered questions. Why was she robbed of almost 30 years? Is she the only sane person in the room?
Finally Herman Hesse’s views on spiritual awareness take center stage as Siddhartha (C.J. O’Toole) undergoes changes which create a new being, Buddha – a being who awakens from one reality to another as blindness gives way to sight.
From comedy to tragedy, the WAKINGS quartet presents intriguing questions which may foster chuckles or tears. Helmed by skilled director Ron Sossi, WAKINGS seamlessly taps into issues that are profound but yet also everyday – issues which tap into a well spring of queries but which offer no clear cut answers. WAKINGS is a thought provoking production which asks more questions than offers solutions. Sossi is assisted in this exploration by five talented actors who bring the show to life. Kudos to each thespian who dug deeply into the role. This reviewer was especially intrigued by Pinter’s contributions, “Victoria Station” and “A Kind of Alaska.” WAKINGS will offer fascinating and thought-provoking viewpoints about awareness and what it really means.
WAKINGS runs through June 5, 2022, with performances at 8 p.m. on Wednesdays (5/11 and 5/25 only), Fridays, and Saturdays. Sunday performances are at 2 p.m. The Odyssey Theatre is located at 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90025. Tickets range from $32 to $37. Wednesday performances are $10. For information and reservations, call 310-477-2055 ext. 2 or go online.