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Call Me Waldo

Rob Ackerman's problematic new play deals with a 40-something electrician who becomes obsessed with Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Brian Dykstra and Matthew Boston
in Call Me Waldo
(© Lia Chang)
Before the action gets underway in Rob Ackerman's problematic Call Me Waldo, now at the June Havoc Theater, sound designer Don Tindall pipes in the Manfred Mann's Earth Band's "Blinded by the Light." It's a rather highly unsubtle way of priming the audience to meet electrician Lee Fountain (the sincere Matthew Boston) who's about to plunge into an unusual mid-life crisis.

Worried he's amounting to nothing, the 40-ish Lee has become obsessed and even possessed by the indefatigable essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson -- to whom he is related -- and even sporadically quotes the 19th-century Transcendentalist while working alongside his f-word-addicted pal and boss Gus Sakellariadis (the boisterous Brian Dykstra), especially when he becomes frustrated or agitated.

At first, Lee's aberrations alarm his wife Sarah (Rita Rehn, conveying concern), a nurse, and she shares her misgivings with friend and attending physician Cynthia Allen (Jennifer Dorr White, conveying sympathetic tolerance well).

However, after a night of sexual role-playing where Lee (as Emerson) seduces Sarah as acolyte, the bedazzled spouse becomes convinced that following Emerson's precepts is the only way to go. In her turn, she sets out to convert both Gus -- who tags along for a disastrous short time -- and Cynthia, who was an American Studies major during her college days and mightily objects to Emerson's simplistic beliefs. The eventual results of the shared Emersonian compulsion can't be revealed here, but it isn't unfair to say that the man himself wouldn't disapprove of the satisfactions reaped and how they come about.

While the play, directed by Margaret Perry, has the makings of a fine comedy, it elicits few laughs. What it does prompt are numerous questions about why the characters act as they do in circumstances calling for far different behavior, from Sarah's response to Lee's bedtime confession to Sarah' talking Gus so effectively into Emersonian mode that he turns an important lighting-installation job into an opportunity to make a home video about the significance of Emerson's work.

In addition to these oversights, Ackerman doesn't seem to have the little bell in his head that goes off when the time to stop a play has arrived. This one has three, maybe four endings. Perhaps the excess is due to the playwright's need for neatly tying up the relationships between the four figures, but he keeps on plugging well after Lee and Sarah have seen the light.


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