Review of ‘Call It A Day’ by Greg Wohead

Featuring Tim Bromage, Mireya Lucio and Amelia Stubberfield

At The Yard, January 2019

Written by Emma Clayton

Call It A Day was an experience both jarring and moving; in the sense that it was often caught, and caught the audience, in a loop, whilst characters leapt from actor to actor and actors leapt from character to character, and actors danced on the tables…

In between all of which, Wohead carved out moments of clarity, poignancy and practicality.

I think it’s important to note, especially in relation to the play’s considerations of memory and fictionalisation, that the act of reviewing this play from memory is in fact itself a revealing review. The happenings and themes that I outline here are those that have stuck with me, for whatever reason – the forms and content that my brain thinks is most important to rearticulate.

Call It A Day is a rearticulation of a meeting that happened between Wohead and his then girlfriend (both liberally minded and artistic), and an Amish couple living in rural Illinois. The four people on stage toss the narrative between them as the story of that wintry afternoon unfurls, and is further weaved, through monologues, dialogues, card games and translations.

At the beginning:

I found Wohead’s singular presence on stage intriguing. And then I found it swinging towards obnoxious – a single ploughing voice. Occupying the space – leaving no room for others. Yet his monologue, looping and transient, did carry me with it. I was gently energised by the fleetingly poetic nature of the text, and sold on the promise of a storytelling.

Wohead’s speech introduced plurality as a core theme of the piece. For example, presenting himself as a non-Pennsylvania Dutch speaking person speaking Pennsylvania Dutch. This theme of translation – from one language to another, or from an ear to a mouth – both bound and fragmented the duration of the play. The kaleidoscopic nature and splitting of character, personhood and ‘truth’, between the four players on stage urged the narrative forward, and deepened the audience’s understanding of the complexity of the characters, whilst also pushing them further out of our grasp.

In fact, it is not only the audience who had a hard time from keeping the characters’ continuity from slipping through their fingers. As (what is becomes apparent) is a partly improvised piece, each persons’ person* (on stage) was always at the mercy of the person beside them. The table was the only fixed point of the whole scenario, around which opinions changed, knowledge was exchanged and perspectives were (perhaps) broadened. Ultimately, boundaries were challenged – cultural, generational, personal – but it remains to be questioned whether they were actually shifted.

*I am wary of using the word character here, as Greg (if we are to believe ‘the real’ Greg Wohead is a person on stage) appears to be playing himself, or his perceived memory of himself, so that fictionalised, memorialised, envisaged personhoods fold in on themselves.

Although the play did not seem to have a political direction, there were clear political overtones. At the beginning, voting statistics were projected on the wall, and throughout attention was drawn to differences – religious, cultural, personal – amplifying the questions, what does it mean for these people to be in a room together? how do they exist together? In this case, difference was met level-headedly with a compassionate openness and curiosity. Perhaps this was the most overt political exploration in the entire show. During times in ‘real life’ where empathy and humanity can feel sorely lacking, Wohead casually extended to the audience the possibility that difference can exist peacefully, even productively.

Wohead reached for moments of understanding and vulnerability with the audience through pop tunes and filmic references, enhancing this forged intimacy by dropping the lights, lowering his voice and staring closely into the face of his co-performers. In this theatrical soup in which the audience are left often without a paddle, Wohead’s solo instants drew the audience into a bizarre familiarity….

until, suddenly we were involved in the uncomfortably graphic retelling of pig murders,

the feeling of literally (and metaphorically) climbing into another’s skin, extensive descriptions of breathing into another’s face. The shifts were so drastic that they bore the weight of the insistent microphone passing, seat changing, apple buttering, monologuing of the rest of the play. We had to constantly reassess the situation we were paying witness to, and how we were reacting. We were encouraged to accommodate, give space to, the unexpected and unknown. At each revolution of the table something else is upturned.

In this way, it was perhaps structured similarly to the way memory operates – at least experientially. Certain cues were repeated, or acted as the entry point to a re-articulation of a scene. Each time something was reset or replayed it differed, constructed by occurrences and presences on stage, informed by rehearsal, learnt from prior enactments and retellings. Similar to the sense of turning over a series of pebbles that gives way to a whole hidden ecosystem, different each time you take a look at it as it is always on the move.

The relentlessness of the reinvention of the play’s components felt pervasive in this way.

It eked into my brain, disturbing sedimentary layers of memories and fraying my confidence in their overall structure. What is it that pulls these from a larger weave of material, built and buried for years? How does that thread come to be present in the world again, through the senses, speech, thought, or feeling? How ‘authentic’ can this memory be when it must be dragged through the debris of a lifetime before resurfacing? Suddenly, memory and storytelling has all these things attached to it – context which can’t be shaken, but should be considered.

That’s not to say the play didn’t, at times, leave me resting in hollows of frustration. The repetition was grating (as well as intriguing). But it’s this that keeps the cogs turning, kept me in my seat. Rather than walking out on a circling situation, I was coaxed to stay in the spaces that a push and pull between familiarity and indifference crack open. It is this, I think, that is the real fortification of this unorthodox recount.