Call Me Waldo
nytheatre.com review by Heather Lee Rogers
February 18, 2012
Rob Ackerman’s new play Call Me Waldo is about an electrician named Lee who, while coping with the trauma of his daughter’s recent illness, has begun channeling the late philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson. Lee is a direct descendent of Emerson and found comfort in reading Emerson’s books. Then, after an electrical shock at work, he unexpectedly begins speaking and behaving as if he were Emerson at random intervals. This odd behavior completely freaks out his boss, a foul-mouthed, self-proclaimed “knuckle-dragger” named Gus. Gus is so concerned he tells Lee’s wife Sarah, who is a nurse. Sarah confides in her friend Cynthia, a doctor at her hospital. It turns out Cynthia was an American Studies major before entering med school and just happens to know all about Emerson. She encourages Sarah to clinically observe Lee and to read Emerson’s books herself. Soon Sarah is also wrapped up in the transcendental philosophy and intellectual sex appeal of the “Sage of Concord.” Before long everyone has Waldo fever.
The play takes place on a stage that looks like a garage or construction site-inspired installation (designed by David L. Arsenault). There are naked bulbs in plastic cages, the back door of a truck, and tons of metal beams and plywood. The set is well-utilized, highly versatile and fun in surprising ways. It also expresses many different settings with a simplicity that prevents Call Me Waldo from being a play about scene changes.
The soundtrack on the other hand (designed by Don Tindall), which we are supposed to believe is coming from a boom box onstage as Classic Rock 101.2, can be overbearing at times. It feels like the blaring rock wants the play to be a lot more All-American raucous fun than it is. It’s a very enjoyable play! But it’s also a serious, thoughtful play about heartache, love and people trying to figure out if their lives mean anything.
Which is not to say the play isn’t fun! The opening scene, in which Lee and Gus argue about if donuts should have sprinkles or not, is hysterical. As is an outrageous love-making scene between Lee and Sarah. Both the humor and emotional guts of the play are mined to the fullest by the small cast who have great ensemble chemistry together. Matthew Boston as Lee adeptly carries the heart and soul of the play. His detailed work is beautiful to watch and my favorite part of this play-going experience. Brian Dykstra as Gus is hilarious, especially in his scenes with Cynthia (played by Jennifer Dorr White).
The play felt a little overwritten at times, like Ackerman was so in love with these wonderful characters that he couldn’t help inventing more material for them regardless of whether or not it advanced the plot. But it’s hard to blame him. The characters are fully developed and tons of fun to watch and at 95 minutes it’s not a long play anyway. Call Me Waldo is a great theatre experience and as a bonus you’ll walk away knowing more about Ralph Waldo Emerson.