Vigil eventually opens its sentimental heart
By Morris Panych. Directed by Kim Selody. Presented by Like Minded Theatre Co-op. At the PAL Theatre on Thursday, June 14. Continues until June 24
It takes too long to get to the goods in this production of Vigil.
In Morris Panych’s 1995 script, a guy named Kemp shows up at what he hopes will be his elderly aunt’s deathbed. He’s after her estate, which, from the looks of her room, is pretty meagre. But the old woman refuses to die.
The aunt’s mostly mute tenacity in the face of Kemp’s morbid greed fuels the script’s central joke, which repeats and repeats: “Let’s not talk about anything depressing, alright? Do you want to be cremated?”; “That knitting of yours, is it a long-term project?”; “I’m concerned about your health these past few days. It seems to be improving.”
It’s hard to perform a script that keeps hitting the same note, and Allan Zinyk, who plays Kemp in this interpretation, makes a crucial error: he tries to be entertaining. Under Kim Selody’s direction, Zinyk exaggerates comic rhythms and, when Kemp tells his aunt stories, he acts them out. But it’s Kemp’s meanness, his refusal to please, that gives him energy and makes him funny. Comedy is about releasing appetites, after all.
Playing Grace, the old woman, Anna Hagan misses many of her marks. Off the top, she pulls faces, and although Grace walks with a cane at one point, Hagan’s Grace is far too agile to need one, so the cane looks like a prop, and Grace’s frailty, which the script depends on, feels like a lie.
There’s a big twist in the story. I won’t give it away, but I will say that if you know it, the soufflé goes very flat.
That said, the twist is also a watershed in this mounting. After the big revelation, the story opens its sentimental heart. Both Hagan and Zinyk are much more at home in this world, so about the last 15 minutes of the show are touching.
The container for all of this, designer Glenn MacDonald’s set, is disappointingly straightforward. Vigil deals in skewed perceptions, but MacDonald gives us a square room with Grace’s bed smack in the centre, facing directly out.
Vigil wants more darkness and more spin.