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Review - Vigil: The Long Goodbye

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There's very little I can recommend from Vigil, Morris Panych's two-person play which I'll assume was meant to be darkly humorous and quirky, but ends up a rather dreary and frequently ugly ninety-five minute affair.

Told in a pace-stifling collection of 37 quick scenes and blackouts (most of them a minute or so, many are shorter), Vigil opens with the bitter and insensitive Kemp (Malcolm Gets) arriving at the home of his aunt Grace (Helen Stenborg), whom he hasn't seen in thirty years. After receiving her letter saying she is close to death, Kemp has left his bank job and has traveled thousands of miles to sit at her bedside for her final moments. Buts when those moments stretch into weeks and then months, the nephew's threadbare patience snaps.

"Sign your will. You're leaving everything to me."

"I think you've eaten enough. You'll never fit in the box."

"Why are you putting on makeup? Why don't you let the mortician do that?"

That's a sampling of the hateful scene-ending zingers Gets must shoot at Stenborg, presumably in the theatrical tradition of scoring a big laugh before the blackout. While he's certainly a skilled enough actor to dig up some reason for the audience to like Kemp, director Stephen DiMenna, has Gets playing the role so distastefully harsh that by the time the play has progressed to the point where the character starts revealing the sadder details of his upbringing no one involved has proven the nephew human enough for us to care. Especially after he presents Grace with a suicide contraption worthy of the Wile E. Coyote playbook to hang over her bed. (Yes, there is a "comic" moment where the contraption backfires on Kemp and Gets must react with some cartoony physical shtick.)

As Grace, Stenborg remains silent and under the covers for nearly the entire play, reacting to Gets with fear, affection, confusion and pity. It's one of those sweet, little old lady performances that comes off as adorable, but the play is so weightless that she never registers as a character.

There's a slightly foreshadowed plot twist that guides the play to what is surely meant to be a heartwarming ending, but Vigil wears out its welcome even before the intermission.

Photo of Helen Stenborg and Malcolm Gets by Carol Rosegg


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