review: vigils

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[originally published: http://aislesay.com/CHI-VIGILS.html]

VIGILS

by Noah Haidle
Directed by Kate Whoriskey
Goodman Theatre
170 North Dearborn / (312) 443-3800
http://www.goodman-theatre.org
Through November 12, 2006

Reviewed by Martha Wade Steketee
October 24, 2006

Playwright Noah Haidle has created in “Vigils” yet another imaginative landscape that is a clear next step from his regional favorite “Mr. Marmalade” of several seasons past. In that play, a young child creates a world of imaginary friends who provide her solace in a familiarly scary world of inattentive adults. In this story, Haidle turns his distinctive theatrical style to the imaginings in a adult world with adult regrets and joys: how does a person deal with intense loss and loneliness? The movie “Truly, Madly, Deeply” explored this terrain some 15 years ago, with a young widow (Juliet Stevenson) whose musician husband (Alan Rickman) dies suddenly and returns (as a spectre or a guide?) with his gentle, classical music and old movie-loving dead friends to live in her house and entertain her. The journey of that movie is the young widow’s reconnection to the real world, saying goodbye to the familiar and loving but now alien and “other” world of her truly dead husband. In this play, scaled back to an efficient four characters of Widow (Johanna Day), Soul (of her dead husband, Marc Grapey), Body (also of her dead husband, Steve Key), and Wooer (the “real live” dude interested in our Widow, Coburn Goss), our Widow follows a similar journey.

The playwright sets up his absurd little world then allows the characters to comment on one another. The Soul character is kept earthbound by the Widow. He wants to move on, but she keeps him by her to assuage her midnight terrors. He retains a range of human emotions, and is jealous of her efforts to date again, yet feels a new range of extraterrestrial sensations, yearning to move on to his next life. The Wooer is able, for some strange reason, to see the Soul and asks at one point: “Can we not talk about this in front of your husband’s soul? It’s kinda creeping me out.” This all somehow works.

This story is a twisted, evocative version of “Groundhog Day”, a movie I can’t abide but whose premise I can totally appreciate: a person receives a chance over (and over and over) to get a day, an event, a life nuance exactly right. In this case, it appears that those both living and dead are attempting to get a grasp of a single past event – the sudden death of the Widow’s firefighter husband two years before the play’s action begins. There is nothing that can be done to change the sequence of past events. What one is left with is the challenge to move on.

Director Kate Whoriskey and designers Walt Spangler and Jason Lyons have created a visual and spatial Joseph Cornell box world that is has clear and linear parameters (i.e. the edges of the playing space in all dimensions are clearly defined), yet the world of the play expands conceptually and emotionally as we experience the story of one woman and the men in her life. Sound designers Rob Milburn andMichael Bodeen provide the soundscape complete with fiery explosions, collapsing ceilings, and annoying door bells essential to this story. Despite all the swashbuckling movements of characters entering and exiting through doors and windows, sometimes in full firefighting gear, or climbing ladders through a collapsed ceiling (nice job evoking this with sound, light, and projections, by the way), this is small and gentle story. And a nice new chapter of the body of work emerging from a playwright who is finding his voice.

© Martha Wade Steketee (October 24, 2006)

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