Dark comedy explores the struggle to let go
|The Gift Theatre presents|
Review by Keith Glab
We’ve all experienced emotionally taxing life events that are difficult to put behind us. The protagonist of Noah Haidle’s Vigils is mired in an extreme case of this. Her firefighter husband, whom she married at 19 because of an unplanned pregnancy, has been dead for two years after failing to save an infant from a house fire. She also continues to be haunted by that pregnancy having ended in a miscarriage.
For this Widow, played with genuine vulnerability by Hillary Clemens, the inability to let go is more than just a figure of speech. Just before her husband’s Soul (Jay Worthington) ascends to the afterlife, the Widow grabs it and locks it into a large trunk in her bedroom. In a similarly literal manner, she continually relives poignant moments of her life with her husband’s Body (James D. Farruggio), from the night they met, to the day after the miscarriage, to a quarrel the morning before he died.
In the relatively rare instances in which the Widow is focused on the present, a socially-awkward Wooer (Kyle Zornes) courts her. Some of the production’s most comical moments occur when these two try to make small-talk, failing not only due to their own handicaps but also because of the occasional comment from the Soul. These three actors develop great comedic timing and do a great job of playing it straight despite the absurdity of the situation.
The Widow must decide whether to hang on to the memories of her husband and their imperfect marriage or to let him go and move on with her life. Even though she is the clear protagonist, how her ultimate decision affects the Body, Soul, and Wooer is thoroughly explored.
Surreal as Vigils sounds, it is easily relatable, perhaps more so because of The Gift Theatre’s intimate environment and the grounded cast. Clemens sets the tone with her expressiveness and emotion, which sets against the staunch performances from Farrugio and Zornes. Worthington gives Soul a tortured innocence that contrasts nicely with Farruggio’s mundane bluntness, though I wouldn’t mind seeing Worthington vary his delivery on occasion.
Beyond the acting, the show succeeds due to marvelous tech work. Stephen H. Carmody is able to make the Gift’s small, often clumsy stage into a functional three-room house complete with an angled skylight. Anna Henson provides heady projections that transport us to a throbbing dancehall, burning building, or rolling meadow at a moment’s notice. Director Erica Weiss weaves these elements together with the strong spine of Haidle’s script to create a tight, engrossing package that is funny, powerful, and enjoyable.
Don’t stay at home, wallowing in the past. Take a cue from the play’s theme and venture out to Jefferson Park for this wonderful theatrical experience.
Vigils continues through April 21st at The Gift Theatre, 4802 N. Milwaukee (map), with performances Thursdays-Saturdays at 7:30pm, Sundays 2:30pm. Tickets are $25-$30, and are available by phone (773-283-7071) or online through BrownPaperTickets.com (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at TheGiftTheatre.org. (Running time: 80 minutes, no intermission)
Photos by Joshua Longbrake
behind the scenes
Erica Weiss (director); Josh Sobel (asst. director); Stephen H. Carmody (set design); Elizabeth M. Patterson (lighting); Alarie Hammock (costumes); Christopher Kriz (original music, sound design); Anna Henson (projections); Corinne Kabat (stage manager); John Tovar (fight choreography); Joshua Longbrake (photos)