CONNECTICUT CRITICS CIRCLE
"Vigil," Westport Country Playhouse, Westport
--By Irene Backalenick

Several terms come to mind in describing "Vigil," the two-character Canadian piece now
at the Westport Country Playhouse. "Quirky, "dark comedy," "outrageous," and "theater
of the absurd" are helpful in attempting to assign a genre. Canadian playwright Morris
Panych, with a decided flair for the offbeat, appears to be a direct descendent of Samuel
Beckett.

But does the piece succeed? "Vigil" works on one level, fails on another level. Whatever
the failures, they cannot be attributed to its two top-level performers-Timothy Busfield and
Helen Stenborg. Nor can one blame the script itself. It is the production which falters.

As to the story, a middle-aged man (Kemp) arrives at the bedside of his dying aunt
(Grace), a woman he has not seen in thirty years. He launches into a discussion of
funeral plans, presents a will to be signed (naming him legatee), and impatiently tries to
hurry her demise. At the same time, he laments his early childhood, accusing her (and
his parents) of cruelty and neglect. He spins a weird tale, perhaps more fantasy than
reality. She, on her part, looks puzzled, pleased, surprised, as he rattles on in what is
essentially a monologue. Her only words, which occur at the close of Act I, are "Merry
Christmas." Time passes, offering a series of shocking surprises. (Shocking indeed, as
attempted electrocutions almost succeed.)

Under Stephen DiMenna's direction, the story moves through a series of quick
snap-shot scenes, meant to indicate the passage of time. Alas, that passage is all too
slow, dulling the shock effects. Is there a better, quicker way to indicate time's passing?
Also disappointing is Andromache Chalfant's set design. The play is set in Grace's
apartment, but one gets the sense of an abandoned warehouse-huge and neglected.
What is this all about? Granted that the broad stage of the Playhouse presents its
problems, but this is hardly the solution.

Yet the actors' performances are admirable. Stenborg, who has very few spoken lines,
manages it all through innumerable facial expressions, and Busfield's ongoing
monologue is delivered with brio.

The story itself ultimately proves to be thought-provoking, raising the universal
questions. How does one care for the elderly? How do we deal with the dying? How do
human beings connect? And the familiar questions, this time around, are offered in a
novel package.

This review appeared in the Connecticut Post shortly after 3/3/08


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