VIGIL written and directed by Morris Panych, with Brent Carver and Martha Henry. Presented by CanStage at the Bluma Appel Theatre (27 Front East). Runs to November 13, Monday-Saturday 8 pm, matinees Wednesday 1:30 pm and Saturday 2 pm. $36-$80, limited Monday pwyc, same-day half-price rush and $25 for those under 30. 416-368-3110. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Families are at their best and their worst during rites of passage such as birth and death. In Vigil , we meet Kemp, a guiltily neurotic, controlling misanthrope who shows up at his Aunt Grace's house when he receives a letter announcing her increasing decrepitude and imminent death.
As days become weeks and then months, he waits for the inevitable, revealing bits about himself as he regularly and callously refers to her death (they haven't seen each other for decades, and he blames her for not being more connected with him) and getting little in response.
While the piece deals with blood relatives, its resonance clearly applies to any extended family of choice in which someone close lingers at the doorway of eternity without passing through it. The wait, as we see in Kemp, can be exasperating and surreal, both longed for and dreaded.
Writer/director Morris Panych 's play is a marvellous dark comedy, rich and philosophically thoughtful, about the oxymoronic combination of family insensitivity and its members' deeply co-dependent need for one another. In a series of blackout scenes, Kemp unravels his increasing desperation and bleak childhood, while the cagey, laconic Grace - she has fewer than 15 lines in the play - becomes his foil and eventually an actor in his tale. Or is it hers?
Panych has cast the fine Brent Carver and Martha Henry to play out this family dramedy, but his slow-paced direction in the first act keeps the sharp comedy and the intriguing darkness of the writing at bay. Carver is reduced to only a few emotional notes, while Henry offers little in physical reaction. Then, in the second act, the pacing gets tighter and these two people reveal other sides of themselves, including pent-up anger and black loneliness.
That second act includes a surprising narrative turn that elicits a wonderful comic take, and it's in this last half that Panych reveals just how poignant and pungent his script is. Played out against Ken MacDonald 's dilapidated set - with doorways tipped askew and old torn newspapers on the windows suggesting a ghostly skyline - Vigil is worth the wait.