Prairie del'Arte Theatre Company, Victory Gardens Studio Theater
Although theater veteran William J. Norris's bleak two-character piece features some skillful writing and character development, it's far too obvious and sluggishly paced to sustain interest for two hours. Before I Wake begins as a standard naturalistic 1970s living-room drama, but gradually changes into a surrealistic meditation on death, lost love, and the need to find forgiveness.
Norris does get his characters just right: Dan is a 65-year-old retired police officer who received little more than a gold-plated badge for his lifetime of service, and Molly is his caustic but doting ex-wife, who comes to visit him after an absence of ten years. Through the couple's contemplative reminiscences and heated arguments, we come to learn about their regrets, their mistakes, and the misunderstandings that led them to separate. But the revelations are pedestrian, the plot twists predictable; the end of the play is telegraphed long in advance--even by the title. Many of the numerous expository conversations begin clumsily with lines like "Remember that time..." When Norris ventures into the realm of symbolism, he does so gracelessly: to demonstrate Dan's failing health, Norris has him gaze at the horizon, vainly trying to see what lies "beyond the light."
Directed by the playwright in this Prairie del'Arte production, Anna Weiner and Rob Lamont turn in serviceable but somewhat flat performances that underscore the script's general dreariness. You keep hoping for a jolt or a spark, but the play just chugs along, exuding all the energy and freshness of most suburban couples after 25 years of marriage.