After what seems like years of waiting, the time has finally come: I got to see my first in-person, horror theatre production. And what better production to see than the off-Broadway Production, THE WAKE OF DICK JOHNSON (TWDJ). TWDJ proved to be an unsettling, yet insightful look into the horrors of life and the afterlife.
TWDJ was written, directed, and performed by Luke Walker, who has demonstrated himself to be quite the powerhouse. Walker put the entire show on himself, with some help with tech. His capabilities and range were incredibly impressive, and I was blown away to discover that he takes the set down after every show by himself. Walker has taken his production from Sunnyside Queens to North Carolina, back to New York City. After making its way to the silver screen in a film adaptation, TWDJ finally premiered on the West Coast as part of the 2021 Hollywood Fringe Festival.
Since parking in Hollywood is a horror of its own, we arrived at the Hudson Theatre about 20 minutes before show time. However, my fears were quickly alleviated when I discovered that the theatre had its own lot for only a mere $10 (cash only)! A literal steal in the city notorious for $30 parking. The Hudson Theatre’s small, shoebox feel aided in making the show feel more like I was actually attending someone’s wake. The set was aesthetically pleasing and incredible for such a small stage. The attention to detail was immaculate and every piece contributed beautifully to the overall design. Every piece, from the coffin to the television set served a distinct purpose to either the storyline or effectively contributed to the environment.
The initial cozy feel from the theatre and set melted away as soon as TWDJ started. Dick Johnson (Luke Walker) led us through a journey of terror while reminiscing about his life. The horrors he shared touched upon taboo topics that we typically avoid, especially at someone’s wake. The saying “never speak ill of the dead” seemed to float in my mind as Dick laid to rest the trials, tribulations, and provocative holes he encountered in life. Jarring words flowed out of his mouth as if they were words uttered to a lover in a quiet, stolen moment. The varied tones and pitches that Walker utilized when delivering his words proved to be incredibly effective. They kept the attention on him and made less savory topics palatable. Dick’s blunt view on life was relatable, and I found myself giggling to some of his harsh truths.
Another driving force behind TWDJ was the use of the television. When the television played clips from Snow White, it provided a poetic contrast to the harsh realities Dick was painting with his own words. The television also provided a sense of perpetual doom. Essentially illustrating how the afterlife is a repetitive cycle of reliving the worst parts of life.
Overall, I enjoyed ruminating on the intricacies and terrors of life with Dick Johnson. The set design combined with the storytelling drove the production to a wonderfully, dark place. The only hiccup in the show was a tech issue that cause part of the story to be skipped. Regardless, I thoroughly enjoyed TWDJ and was left in an alluring pit of existential dread, as contradicting as it sounds. There’s a beauty to knowing how meaningless and fleeting life truly is.
Shows are scheduled for August 16th, 17th, 18th, 23rd, 24th, and 25th at 8:00pm at the Hudson Theatre in Hollywood, CA. Tickets at $15 and can be purchased here!