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Book Review: Way Station & What Does A Question Weigh? 

Way Station & What Does A Question Weigh? Wes Payton. Adelaide Books, April 16, 2019, Trade Paperback, 202 pages.

Reviewed by Ed Sarna. 

Wes Payton’s latest publication, Way Station & What Does A Question Weigh? is a book of two plays. Anyone familiar with Payton’s unique way of looking at the world will not be disappointed. His complex work simultaneously enlightens and entertains.

The first play, “Way Station,” concerns itself with a one-hit-wonder of a novelist looking back on his life twenty years after the publication of his lone success. The protagonist, known as Frieze, relives his past while contemplating suicide. The story is told in three acts. The play features a nonlinear narrative, with scene one in each act taking place in a present-day, shabby barroom. Scene three of each act takes place in the same barroom, only twenty years in the past. The second scenes in all the acts take place in Frieze’s mind.

While Mr. Payton is never afraid to tackle uncomfortable subjects, he couches his writing with smart, funny lines that catch you off guard. I would find myself pitying the characters just before I burst out laughing at something one of them said or did. Speaking of the characters, along with Frieze, they have names such as Ease, Sleaze, Cheese, Louise, Wheeze, Geeze, and Please, which gives you an idea of the playwright's off-kilter predilections.

The second play, “What Does A Question Weigh,” revolves around a character named Tralf, “a self-described time-traveling anthropologist who is studying the people of our time in the hope of finding a cure for the lethal ennui that plagues his time.” He becomes entangled in an investigation into the disappearance of the wife of a wealthy industrialist—someone he knows well. Throughout the play he interacts with members of the Chicago Police Department, including a hard-boiled detective straight out of 30’s film noir; if the film had been co-directed by Lewis Carroll and Timothy Leary. The detective, as well as most others, have trouble believing he is really from the future. Along with the police, other characters include agents of the FBI, Tralf’s Blographer (blogger-biographer), and a young anarchist.

By looking at our world through the eyes of an outsider, the author skewers many of our foibles and questions things we take for granted. Why is a plastic spork referred to as silverware? As in the first play, the clever dialogue sneaks up on you and gives you an entertaining and thought-provoking way of looking at the world.

I would love to see these plays performed on a stage, but having said that, they are both excellent reads. As in Payton's other works, these plays can be appreciated on more than one level. As pure entertainment, they excel, but they also point out absurdities all around us. I highly recommend Way Station & What Does A Question Weigh?

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