Review: In the Wake (The Comrades)

| August 1, 2017

Rose Sengenberger and Alison Plott star as Ellen and Amy in In the Wake, The Comrades            


In the Wake

Written by Lisa Kron 
Greenhouse Theater, 2257 N. Lincoln (map)
thru Aug 26  |  tix: $15-$20  |  more info
Check for half-price tickets   


Lots of angst, little growth, in this overwrought drama


Rose Sengenberger, Adrienne Matzen and Erin O’Brien star as Ellen, Kayla and Laurie

The Comrades presents
In the Wake

Review by Lauren Whalen

In The Wake is set in the aftermath of George W. Bush’s first Presidential election, from the Florida recount controversy to 9/11, through Bush’s reelection and Hurricane Katrina. It’s still interesting to watch pop culture set during events – I can remember vividly, sometimes down to the detail of what I was wearing (blue and white pajamas) when my mother called me on September 11, warning me not to go downtown. In The Wake uses these historical events as a jumping-off point for events in the life of Ellen (Rose Sengenberger), an intelligent and articulate yuppie who has a loving partner and family and a fulfilling job, yet can’t seem to resist sabotaging it all. This could make for Samantha Newcomb and Adrienne Matzen star as Tessa and Kayla in In the Wake, The Comradescompelling theater, instead it reads like a long-forgotten Netflix series that only had one season because there wasn’t enough demand for another. In The Wake isn’t well-written or (with a few exceptions) particularly well-acted, and I’m happy to see that emerging director Alex Mallory has better projects on the horizon.

In The Wake spans five years and opens on Thanksgiving of 2000, when New Yorker Ellen can’t tear herself away from the television, because the nation still doesn’t have a new President. Dinner is a motley crew consisting of Ellen’s loving live-in partner Danny (Mike Newquist), Danny’s sister Kayla (Adrienne Matzen), who is just as obsessed with the recount, and Kayla’s patient, goofy wife Laurie (Erin O’Brien). Oh, and Ellen’s friend Judy (Kelli Walker), who’s just returned from relief work overseas and is exhausted by chatty Americans and consumed by her married lover. Soon after, Ellen finds a career path (it’s never quite clear what she does, only that it involves a lot of travel and she’s suddenly an expert in her field who serves on panels) and reconnects with childhood acquaintance Amy (Alison Plott) – in a big way. Soon, Ellen finds herself at a crossroads, but she’s constantly unwilling to explore her own “blind spot,” as she expresses in several increasingly angsty monologues directed at the audience.

Rose Sengenberger and Mike Newquist star as Ellen and Danny in In the Wake, The ComradesKelli Walker and Rose Sengenberger star as Judy and Ellen in In the Wake, The Comrades

Lisa Kron’s script was nominated for a GLAAD Media Award, and I’m not really sure why. Yes, eventually Ellen has a boyfriend (she and Danny aren’t married, more her decision than his) and a girlfriend. She’s terrible to both of them. When forced to make decisions, she makes what are likely the wrong ones. This wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing: solid storytelling often involves “good” people making choices that are anything but, and what happens when the inevitable consequences strike. There are a couple of inherent problems with In The Wake. First, there aren’t really any consequences for Ellen. Though her loved ones do comment on her inability to listen to anything other than her self-indulgent prattle, they don’t take any real action and, until the very end, she blithely glides along, whining and crying when she doesn’t get her way, with little to no regard how her actions affect the people around her. The second problem is that Ellen isn’t a particularly interesting person. We don’t know or see what she does for work, or witness any real loving moments coming from her (aside from a few with Amy). Though we’re told what she has to lose by leaving Danny, we don’t really see her struggling with the decision. In The Wake could have been better, more compelling, through the eyes of Kayla and Laurie, Amy or even Judy, who finds herself back in the States trying to raise her niece Tessa (Samantha Newcomb). Though she shows a modicum of self-awareness by the end, Ellen doesn’t learn or grow as a character – In The Wake is mainly two and a half hours of her gazing at her own navel while failing to see virtually anything happening around her.

It’s difficult to see anything redeeming about In The Wake, as the script is so flawed and Ellen so overwrought (though Sengenberger tries her best, there’s really not much she can do). Plott is sweet and earnest as Ellen’s girlfriend Amy, and I found myself rooting for her, along with O’Brien’s Laurie, the first character to really call Ellen out on her bad behavior. Mallory does her absolute best to keep things moving and the story interesting, and a couple of scenes are truly touching, but overall, like the original Twin Towers, In The Wake simply can’t be saved.

Rating: ★½

In the Wake continues through August 26th at Greenhouse Theater, 2257 N. Lincoln (map), with performances Thursdays-Sundays at 8pm.  Tickets are $15-$20, and are available by phone (773-404-7336) or online through (check for availability of half-price tickets). More information at time: 2 hours 30 minutes, no intermission)

Adrienne Matzen, Rose Sengenberger and Mike Newquist star as Kayla, Ellen and Danny

Photos by Paul Goyette




Rose Sengenberger (Ellen), Erin O’Brien (Laurie), Adrienne Matzen (Kayla), Kelli Walker (Judy), Samantha Newcomb (Tessa), Alison Plott (Amy), Mike Newquist (Danny)

behind the scenes

Alex Mallory (director), Carol Ann Tan (dramaturg), Nicholas Coso (lighting design), Becca Venable (sound designer, technical director), Becca Holloway (assistant director), G. Max Maxin IV (projections design), Josh Philoon (master electrician), Kamren Smith (stage manager), Alycia Matz (costume designer), Melanie Kulas (properties coordinator), Rachel Rauscher (scenic designer), Paul Goyette (photos)


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Category: 2017 Reviews, Greenhouse Theater Center, Lauren Whalen, The Comrades

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